Should We Be Worried About Artificial Intelligence?

When you read a great book or watch a great movie, sometimes you wish that there would be sequels to those in future. But often when that wish is fulfilled, you get disappointed with sequels and think that the first one is generally the best of the lot.

I think the writers or the directors also fear that and hence often hesitate to go for sequels. The good part of writing something crappy is- it can hardly get worse, so you don’t have to worry about disappointing your fans. I have an additional advantage here because I don’t have any fan in the first place.
I am rambling here because I have decided to write another piece on AI. I have recently seen few documentaries in YouTube which made me change my mind on AI. There are few things which I thought far fetched in my earlier writing ( which almost certainly you didn’t read) doesn’t seem so to me anymore. Hence I thought, why shouldn’t I share with all even if nobody cares?

The first documentary that greatly moved me is ‘AlphaGo’. It’s on the historical 5 match series of Go between the software AlphaGo (developed by Deepmind Technologies that would later be acquired by Google) and a World Champion Go player Lee Sedol from South Korea. Go is an ancient board game very popular in China, Japan and Korea. It’s played on a 19×19 size board between two players, one with white pieces and the other with black.

It may sound like chess but the possible moves in Go are much higher compared to chess, more than the atoms in the observable universe. Thus it is much harder to make a software that can compete with humans in Go.

The most impressive thing about AlphaGo is the fact that it learnt the game by itself. Of course the rules were taught but then the software was fed thousands of Go matches. The software went through all the matches, analysed and figured out for itself which are the good moves. The question was – has it learnt good enough? It was put to test in Seoul against Lee Sedol.

Almost everyone was certain that Lee would win it 5-0. So when AlphaGo won the first game, everyone got surprised. May be too much of pressure on Lee caused it? Whatever the reason, Lee lost the second game as well. Everyone with a huge shock now understood the power of AlphaGo, or the capability of machine learning.

The 37th move in this game was out of the world, no expert who were watching and running the commentary live could make sense of that. It felt almost like an intuition, a flash of brilliance of a human mind! AlphaGo won the series 4-1 and convinced me that machines can do something which eerily resembles intuition, something we always considered a human monopoly. It thought of a move that we didn’t think for last four thousand years!

The second documentary from PBS tells me how USA and China are fighting hard in the AI frontier to get ahead of each other. Thus the boundary of AI capabilities is being pushed further each day at a phenomenal rate. Take China for example, it joined the AI race seriously in 2017. Chinese President Xi Jinping boldly announced his plan to be equal to USA in AI by 2025 and to be the world leader by 2030.

Already in the past three years, China has produced six unicorns in AI, a unicorn is a company whose market valuation is worth 1 BUSD or more. Brilliant Chinese minds are engaged and competing against each other to come up with new ideas everyday.

Momenta is a Chinese company working on autonomous vehicles. They already built a car which can run on busy Chinese streets. Another company Smart Finance is using AI to assess the risk of a potential borrower before lending. It considers nearly 5000 parameters (including how confidently you typed your loan application and what was the charge level of your smartphone battery) and decides in just 8 seconds.

A traditional bank will take days if not weeks before taking such a decision, and it will merely assess 8 or 10 parameters at most. Megvii is another company which is extremely good at facial recognition even from a smartphone picture. With that, you can now pay in KFC with a smile because the system will automatically recognise and authenticate you.

USA is of course not behind in the race. US company Embark has already developed an autonomous truck. You may be shocked to know that the truck is running between California and Arizona carrying commercial freight. There are big manufacturing plants where people are already being replaced by robots.

There is a supermarket where robots guided by AI do everything from packing the soaps to reading reports for online consumers. It’s a totally new world we’ll have to reimagine.

The question is – what does this mean to us, humans? The big companies are trying to say that we don’t need to worry, everything will be fine. But the reality is somewhat different. Some estimate that roughly 50% of the jobs will be gone. The automation will take away the blue collar jobs, it already has taken to some extent .

Majority Americans believe that they lost jobs because of offshore of jobs to low wage countries, while actually 80% is lost purely because of automation. Now AI is going to do the same to white collar jobs. All the analytical but routine jobs of engineering, banking, wall street, human resources or finance (and what not?) will be done by AI.

We have seen that with automation, productivity increased manifold but average living standard of workers got down or remained stagnant over several decades. The American middle class doing routine jobs in the factories are long gone. I am afraid that the current middle class doing white collar jobs will also be gone in few decades.

Yes, there will be new jobs created which will require new skill set but the average living standard will go down. There is a constant struggle between capital and labour as mentioned by Karl Marx.

When we do automation, we replace labour with capital and the people with capital win as explained beautifully by Computer Scientist and Entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan.

Thus the inequality of wealth is going to increase. Some people will be incredibly rich while have-nots will struggle big time just to survive.

To be honest, the future looks quite scary and bleak to me. You may say I am screamer, but I am not the only one! I am mimicking John Lennon, yes… but to imagine a rather dreary world!

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