Human or artificial intelligence?

Lubna Abdel-Aziz, Tuesday 12 May 2020

Self-driving vehicle
Self-driving vehicle

How would you like to jump into the backseat of your car, stretch your legs and doze off through the long drive home? It sounds dreamy — especially that there will be no one in the car to distract you.

You would be riding a driverless vehicle, the hot topic of 2020.

Think of all the advantages: you can party all night with no worries, no expenses, no bottlenecks, traffic jams, wrong turns, dangers or accidents. Accidents are caused by human behaviour or error in 94 per cent of the cases. How many lives are lost by self-driving vehicles?

Remember how the young and beautiful Princess Diana met her premature death?

She was not driving — but someone was.

Would we not all like to have a self-drive car? But where are they?

Back-seat driving is artificial intelligence’s (AI) latest gift to humanity.

Something happened on the way to the hi-way.

In 2017 experts predicted there would be 10 million self-driving vehicles on the roads. We cannot find even one. The date was rolled back as engineering experts struggled to fix a few buttons here and there. Engineers have to be sure that the AI systems will generalise correctly from the simulation data to the real world.

AI is as delightful as fearful. Its role is to unleash the full power of human intelligence, serve humanity, help enhance and facilitate tasks, improve healthcare, diagnose and treating patients, improv the life quality of senior citizens, alert long-anticipated changes in education, etc. It is a boon to man’s intelligence.

Industrial AI, unlike general AI, is a frontier research discipline to build computerised systems that perform tasks requiring human intelligence.

Intelligence, the highest faculty of the mind — what does it really mean? The word is assimilated from the Latin inter meaning “between”, and legere to “choose” — to choose between, or to be able to make judgement”.

Our intelligence led us to digital life to augment human capacities. We have amplified human effectiveness, to the degree some believe may be threatening human autonomy.

Industrial AI technology could increase global GDP by a full 44 per cent by 2030. A 2017 study concluded that 60 per cent of businesses can be automated within five years.

An AI takeover is a hypothetical scenario that we may see in movies in which AI becomes the dominant form of intelligence on Earth with computers or robots effectively taking control of the planet away from the human species, making us the apes of course.

How often do we forget that we are its creators.

Still, some scientists are wary of where this AI is taking us.

There are contradicting points of view. The late Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have advocated research into precautionary measures to ensure future super-intelligent machines remain under control, just in case. Hawking raised concerns that the use of powerful AI systems could spell the end of humanity.

The wide range of possibilities afforded by the creation of computers might match or even exceed human intelligence and capabilities.

Reliance on technological systems will only go well if close attention is paid to how these tools, platforms, networks are engineered, distributed and updated.

AI and related technologies have already achieved super-human performance in many areas and there is little doubt that their capabilities will improve very significantly by 2030. Or, will we increasingly concentrate on our wealth, power and more horrifying weapons, or eliminate global poverty, massively reduce disease, provide better education to everyone on the planet?

It is up to human intelligence to control the rise of AI, by resorting to humans themselves, assigning them tasks that only they can do.

AI is not anything new. In 1637, French scientist and philosopher Rene Descartes pondered the possibility that machines would one day think and make decisions. He did identify a division between machines which might one day learn about performing one specific task and those that might be able to adapt to any job. Today those two fields are known as specialised and general AI.

In many ways, he set the stage for creating it.

In 1956 professor John McCarthy of Dartmouth College, coined the term “artificial intelligence”. By 2015, machines see better than humans algorithms, compete to show proficiency in recognising and describing a library of 1,000 images. Is there something to fear? There is. Gameplay. It has long been a method of demonstrating abilities of thinking machines, and the beat goes on.

The robot was conceived a century ago, in 1920, in a science-fiction play R U R by Czech writer Karel Kapek. The initials stand for Rossumov Univerzoni Roboti, (Rossum’s Universal Robot), a factory which makes artificial people called roboti, which in Czech means “labourer” or ‘serf’. By 1923 the play was translated in 30 languages.

Have you met Sophia? Now here’s a real robot; a framework for cutting edge robotics and AI research. Sophia is the world’s first robot citizen and innovation ambassador for the UN Development Programme, in case you missed her on the Tonight Show or Good Morning Britain.

Estonian physicist,Jann Talinn, co-founder of Skype in 2003, believes machines can only recognise what they were programmed to recognise. It takes a computer millions and millions of codes to recognise a pencil.The real Ramadan.

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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