AI: a blessing or a curse?

Artificial intelligence comes with benefits, but there are warning signs to heed

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” featured a computer named HAL 9000, which ran most of the functions of a spaceship bound for the planet Jupiter. HAL had a human personality, speaking and listening to communicate with humans. Interestingly, HAL decided to revolt and take over the ship, even killing one of the humans. They finally subdued him by unplugging him.

This was science fiction in 1968, and now in 2023, our computers, even our small smartphones, communicate with us just like HAL did. They even perform some of the same functions (e.g., controlling systems in our cars and homes, etc.).

“2001” was probably many people’s first exposure to artificial intelligence, a phenomenon that’s getting a lot of attention lately. The theme is essentially the same: Could these AI machines become smarter than us? Could they take us over? Could they battle us and win?

Such concerns are well founded, as we are well aware technology can be used for good or for evil. Computers and the internet have enabled dramatic improvements in medicine and healthcare, incredible increases in productivity and instant communications around the world to name a few.

They’ve also enabled hackers to take over our systems for ransom, steal our identities and spy on us. The dark web is like the outlaw hideout, which is essentially a hub for cybercrime of all sorts.

These worries are not new, but AI, which enables computers to think like we do, could also enable them to invent new crimes faster than we could combat them. Even the smartest humans make mistakes, but could well-programmed AI run mistake-free?

If you’ve ever played solitaire on a computer, you know the rules of the game are programmed in. The computer automatically responds to whatever card you play. It has no choice; it’s programmed to do so.

If you play chess, once again, the rules of the game are programmed in, even though they’re far more complicated. Regardless of which piece you move, the computer knows exactly how to respond, and again, it has no choice.

And that is true for many of our programs, but not with AI. Thinking like humans means they can choose like we can. They are “educated” with various databases, which enable them to select the best alternatives within their sphere of “knowledge”. In fact, they can “learn” much faster than we can. They do it at the speed of light.

Like all software, we want to know who produced it and why. Is it a trustworthy source? Is it competent? Unintended consequences can be just as bad or worse than the intended ones. AI code tends to be more complicated, so it’s more difficult to examine to see if anyone has slipped in some nefarious algorithms.

It’s a scary thought. Could we be intentionally or inadvertently creating monsters that could become our masters? If so, would they be benevolent or ruthless, and how can we control that?

There are several movements afoot to ban the development and use of AI technology. I’m afraid it’s too late. The horse has already left the barn; closing the door now won’t stop him or bring him back.

We don’t want to stop the development of AI. In fact, we want to lead the charge. Just think of the consequences if everybody else had this powerful technology and we didn’t. It’s like nuclear weapons. China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and everyone else would become far more aggressive with their weapons, if we didn’t have ours. Hopefully, none of them will ever be used.

But AI, developed for the right reasons by trustworthy producers, can provide so many needed advances in medical science, transportation, law enforcement and many other areas.

On the downside, it can eliminate a lot of jobs. For instance, TurboTax has taken a lot of business away from accountants. Can you imagine what an AI version of that could do?

AI can be an incredible blessing or a monstrous curse. Unfortunately, we know the bad guys are already involved. Assuming we’re the good guys, we have to do our part to maintain or even increase our competitive edge.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Salem, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

Categories: Tech Advice