Hareesh TibrewalaOct 16, 2020 19:30:24 IST
In the words of Singularity University founder Ray Kurzweil, “In the 21st century, we won’t experience 100 years of progress, it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)”. And one key driver for this mind-boggling rate of change, is the use of technology powered by artificial intelligence.
To some extent, “artificial intelligence” is a misnomer. There is nothing really artificial about it. Artificial Intelligence (AI) simply means
- The ability to crunch lots and lots of data
- at extremely high speeds
- at very low costs
- using of machines (computers)
So far, the human mind was the fastest known data cruncher, and we prided on calling ourselves an intelligent species as a result. Intelligence is, simply put, the ability to crunch a lot of data and use that to arrive at decisions. Now, for the first time in human history, we will see another “species” – computers – capable of behaving more “intelligently” than we do. This creates its own challenges and opportunities.
AI brings new opportunities, possibilities
The use of AI will lead to exponential innovation, that help solve the basic needs of humanity and eliminate all kind of shortages and help humans live a far more comfortable and longer lives. Some examples
- Mapping of the entire human genome, can help us identify exactly what gene can cause what health issue. And we can actually fix the problem before we become sick.
- We could mine and bring back to earth, rare-earth metals from other asteroids in the outer space who are rich in these metals
- We can replicate body organs in the laboratory. Thereby ensuring that any damaged part of our body can be replaced, theoretically, guaranteeing life in perpetuity.
- We could use robots for high risk tasks (fire-fighting for example), thereby reducing risk to human lives
Challenges of an AI-world
- If an AI–powered vehicle (autonomous car) meets with an accident, who is to blame? The owner of the vehicle in whose name the car is registered, or the manufacturer of the vehicle who put the chassis and the body of the car together, or the provider (possibly based in another country) of the software powering the vehicle?
- Evolution of species on our planet has so far followed what Darwinian theory, of survival of the fittest. However, using AI based gene-mapping, humans now have the power to “create” the next species. What is one country decides to go ahead and start creating some new species, without fully understanding the consequences of this for our planet, thereby endangering lives of citizens of their own and other countries?
- Use of blockchain-based currency (cryptocurrency) could complete bypass traditional banking institutions, thereby escaping the governments tax net. And without tax revenues, it is difficult to maintain governance.
Thus, governments need to be thinking ahead, about how best to harness the power of AI and begin putting in place mechanisms and regulations to ensure its responsible use. This thinking has to happen not only at national government level but also at a global level. With technology connecting people across the world in one big, interconnected village, it is important that governments across borders start cooperating and collaborating for mechanisms and processes to manage the power of AI. It will be important to ensure no single entity – be it a corporation or country – is allowed to misuse the power of AI for global supremacy.
If there’s one thing we can take away from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the power of information sharing, collaboration and pre-defined protocols. If governments across the world had collaborated to share information about the coronavirus, and had pre-approved protocols in place for an event like this (shutting borders or the sharing of intelligence on vaccine efforts), we wouldn’t have seen the situation escalate to the one we’re finding ourselves in.
It is commendable that the government of India has shown the foresight and vision to bring conversation around artificial intelligence in the public domain. Irrespective of political affiliations, there is no denying that this government demonstrates a high level of alertness around the use of technology for bringing around social change – be it is the Jan-Dhan Yojna (to weed out middle men) or the Aadhaar card (to link financial transactions and minimize tax evasion). Responsible AI can have a positive impact in almost every facet of social change – education, agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing or infrastructure.
India, on account of its large IT industry, can be a leader, not only in providing AI solutions to the world, but also leading the global political dialogue around responsible AI.
The author is the joint CEO of Mirum, India.