AI Demystified: Shaping the future for positive change

The debate between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk on the misunderstandings of artificial intelligence (AI) has brought to the forefront concerns and dangers of a robot takeover. 

Often misrepresented and misunderstood, AI continues to serve as a source of significant intrigue. It has long been lauded as the future of work, but according to notable Hollywood movies, is also a harbinger of a robot takeover. 

Futuristic movies, like I, Robot, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, portray AI as the precursor to a robot revolution wherein a seemingly innocuous utilization of the tool devolves into dystopia. And in many cases, despite being an effective money making tool, it is a mischaracterization of AI. Still, it is believable because of the lack of public fluency on the issue. 

As the idiom states: “We fear what we don’t understand.” 

With anxieties abound, it is important to understand that every technology shift has its own set of winners and losers. The advent of the car was initially rejected by the public, and even ridiculed by horse owners. The only difference, is that the pace of advancing technology is now much quicker than it was in the past. When we do not understand a technology, we automatically tend to demonize it. 

Similarly with AI, being able to define it and have awareness towards how it is impacting various industries for positive change will offer a more profound understanding that may ease concerns and lead it to be more widely accepted. 

What is AI? 

The first step in busting AI myths is to arrive at a reasonable, inclusive and thoughtful definition of the term. 

Oxford Dictionary defines AI as, “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. Examples include tasks such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision making under uncertainty, learning, and translation between languages.” 

This definition is effective because it makes clear that AI is, in many instances, simply streamlining a process to make it more efficient. And while it is executing tasks that “require human intelligence,” the tasks themselves – like mass data analysis or translation, complex calculations or immediate responsiveness – are rarely those which people are otherwise capable of or willing to perform. 

The Robot Workforce 

There are concerns about how AI will impact the workforce and the global economy. For example, some fear that the rise of AI will lead to the replacement of jobs. In fact, researchers at Oxford University projected that 47 percent of U.S. employment may end up “at risk” with the expansion of AI.

However, it is important to keep an open mind on the opportunities it presents. 

AI alone, is not enough. It requires humans to help AI understand language and make subjective decisions for a business. With the availability of online education, workers are able to receive the training and schooling that will present new employment opportunities. There are tailored courses for data scientists or machine learning engineers specifically designed to assist with AI.

While the concern exists that a sizeable number of jobs across all levels will be displaced by AI, a new study from Forrester Research argued that the development of AI and automation will actually transform and advance current jobs as humans get familiar working alongside their machine counterparts. Furthermore, Forrester estimated that in the next decade, 15 million new jobs will be created in the US as a result of AI and automation technology. 

As the workforce modernizes, the door will open for new, previously unexplored jobs. 

Change for Good 

Healthcare is seen as one of the industries which will see tremendous benefits from AI-powered tools. 

At a recent Stanford University conference, Andy Slavitt, former acting director, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said that the expansion of AI in healthcare is designed to address productivity concerns. Specifically, “We need to be taking care of more people with less resources, but if we chase too many problems and business models or try to invent new gadgets, that’s not going to change productivity. That’s where data and machine learning capabilities will come in." 

CB Insights reported that there are now over 100 AI-based healthcare startups. The companies have wide-ranging aims, from aiding oncology treatment to reducing administrative responsibilities for doctors and nurses to powering digital journaling tools. In each case, AI is enhancing productivity through machine learning and deep data analysis. 

This is precisely why AI-anxiety is misguided. These are unexplored tools, each of which has the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery and improve outcomes for the issue which they are intended to address. 

As the healthcare industry undergoes several paradigm shifts – from fee-for-service to value-based care, impersonal to precision medicine, traditional to digital healthcare delivery – AI is becoming essential. There are, for example, an overwhelming number of cancer variations that depend upon one’s family history, upbringing, DNA, environment, work and medical history. Coordinating care delivery and analyzing treatments and outcomes is essential, but with finite manpower and resources, impossible without the use of AI. 

AI is a catch-all and a flashpoint, a source of concern and of intrigue. But it does not need to be. Instead, it should be recognized for what it is – a state-of-the-art way to utilize limited resources to advance an industry. It is not without its share of concerns, like other innovation groundswells before it. But it is also not an issue to be feared.   

Eliezer Yudkowsky, an American AI researcher and writer who champions friendly AI, wrote in Singular Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, “By far the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.” Misinformed generalizations that lead to stigmatizing attitudes, fears and misconceptions, limit the public’s scope to further the conversation surrounding the benefits of AI development. 

With a broader and deeper understanding of the technology and the opportunities it presents, I am hopeful that fear and hesitation will become excitement. Unlike it had initially been thought to be, AI is not all doom and gloom. 

Kouris Kalligas, CEO and co-founder of Therachat

Image Credit: Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock