Artificial Intelligence: Why Should We Care?

AI will evolve way beyond the simple examples you see today.

Artificial Intelligence: Why Should We Care?

Anyone who has interacted with superbot ChatGPT or image generator DALL-E might be wondering what the future of artificial intelligence (AI) holds for humanity.

ChatGPT is an AI program that generates text in a very human-like manner when asked questions. It can do amazing things like write a limerick about Tom Brady and the 2021 SuperBowl in seconds or provide quick summaries on topics with public information. Just ask DALL-E or similar programs to create a picture of a French bulldog driving a pink convertible and voila: you'll see several versions in seconds.

Science fiction in the mid-20th century created good-natured AI such as the computer on Star Trek helping the Enterprise crew, as well as its evil twin set on destroying its creators like HAL in Arthur C. Clarke's famous book (or Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film adaptation) 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 2023, however, we're surrounded by AI that's far more mundane than those Baby Boomer examples. The virtual assistant in your smartphone, the airline chatbot and the robot vacuum cleaning your floors don't seem to have any aspirations to rise above humanity and have been designed to help us.

But AI will evolve way beyond these simple examples. As my writing partner, Daniel Araya, and I cover in our forthcoming book, Augmented Education in the Global Age: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Learning and Work, big changes are afoot due to advances in AI. We borrowed the word "augmented" from the late Douglas Engelbart, the visionary computer scientist who bequeathed the world a myriad of ideas and gadgets, including the computer mouse, the multiple "windows" display and "hyperlinks" to other texts, images, audio and video in one document. And for those who've never seen his 1968 "mother of all demos" — perhaps the world's first Zoom session — you'll be amazed at Engelbart's prescience in understanding how computing technology would evolve and be used to "augment" human intellect.

As Engelbart envisioned, AI should be viewed as a tool, a technological capacity to think, act, adapt, and prepare itself for new situations to make decisions and perform skills. This is how we all should think about AI. We had glimpses of what AI could do in 1997 when IBM's Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov. But chess has only an 8x8 board of squares, with a limited (though amazingly large) number of possible moves. Flash forward to 2016 and Google's DeepMind beat champion Lee Sedol in GO, a much more complicated game on a 19x19 square board with trillions and trillions and trillions of more possible moves than chess.

Think about chatbots — those computer programs using AI to understand questions and respond to them. They're a good place to see where this technology is going. They've been around for a while, functioning as e-commerce help desks or travel agents booking reservations. But these systems merely hint at AI's potential. Five years ago, if you asked a chatbot about tomorrow's weather it might have told you only the temperature and that it may be sunny or raining — a simple forecast like you'd see on TV. But today, it might suggest "consider waking early because expected rain might slow your office commute by an estimated 20 minutes." Pretty soon it may also set an alarm to wake you and make an extra cup of fresh coffee for the commute!

Just Around the Corner

We should be prepared for bigger things to come than games, better chatbots or photo generators. Connectivity is key: think of AI as a general-purpose innovation like electricity that powers and connects other technologies, including sensors, robots, genomic devices and 3D printers. AI's use will only intensify and accelerate as faster computing technology is developed, along with greater sensors capturing data, often called the Internet of Things (IoT). In the future, AI will be interwoven in virtually every aspect of commercial and personal activities. What's on the horizon? Personalized curriculum for you at school. Medicine and treatments tailored to your specific genome. Fully autonomous self-driving cars for everyone. Custom-to-you movies with virtual actors. And new AI cybersecurity to protect us against the malicious AI that undoubtedly will be created.

Like farmers driving combines and factory workers operating motorized machines, office workers need to think about how to save time using AI or, better yet, dream of doing things previously impossible. For me in the financial world, I've designed some AI to search financial databases to help me analyze and select assets for client portfolios in dramatically different ways. In the past, researching the relationships between tens of thousands of stocks, bonds and currencies was time-consuming and often futile because they reprice all day. With some AI software and large databases, I now can analyze unbelievable quantities of data daily and decide on what to buy and sell to optimize returns for clients — an impossibility a decade ago by myself or even with a team of twenty people! Today, AI helps monitor and analyze thousands of securities for me 24/7 without sleeping, alerts me to risks and opportunities and provides me advice on demand.

As Engelbart reminds us, AI holds the promise of empowering humans to augment productivity in virtually every field including law, government, agriculture, manufacturing, space exploration, and even warfare. Countries all around the world are figuring out ways to use AI including China, which aims to be a leader in the technology. Are there risks in AI? Sure, many ethical and alignment issues need to be thought through comprehensively. But productivity gains, quality improvements, and lower prices for almost everything are around the corner - if we embrace AI. The bottom line: don't fear the future. Use your human intelligence and creatively devise ways your business and personal lives could be improved with a little artificial intelligence.

The views and opinions reflect those of the author and not those of affiliated institutions.

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