Every ten to 15 years there is a technology breakthrough that really changes what it means to be human. The internet, mobile phones, social media and, most recently, AI voice assistance: all of these amplify the human experience. And with each technological game-changer we go through much of the same series of questions and anxieties. We worry both that it’s all too much, and too little. With the recent advances in artificial intelligence we leap ahead to the existential dangers, and at the same time wonder whether there aren’t more pressing issues to discuss: healthcare, climate change, education, the economy. Well, they are pressing issues — but AI has an impact on all of them. AI is the new electricity of our time, powering opportunity and growth across all of these areas.
First let’s deal with the fears. Despite many movie or science-fiction plot lines, AI is not inherently against us. It’s best thought of as something which, used correctly, could allow us to be even more human. There are essentially three levels of artificial intelligence: narrow, general and super-intelligent. When we talk about modern AI, we are in fact talking about narrow AI, which means artificial intelligence that’s designed to perform specific tasks. Google Search is a great example of this: it performs a discovery task, and it’s become ubiquitous throughout the world. AI chatbots are Q&A algorithms that can answer customer questions and you come across these every day, such as when you’re booking a cinema ticket or calling the council. These AI applications can further assist customer service by providing representatives with suggestions on what would be most valuable to an individual customer.
Next comes general AI, known as artificial general intelligence (AGI). This is the notion that at some point AI will have human-equivalent intelligence (there is still much debate on whether this is achievable and the time frame of such a system).