Humanoid ‘Sophia The Robot’ of Hanson Robotics answering questions during a press conference at the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, recently. AFP PIC

ARTIFICIAL Intelligence (AI) resurfaced as a hot topic at the recent Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, after renowned physicist Stephen Hawking commented that AI could be the “worst event in the history of our civilisation” unless society finds a way to manage its development.

These comments from someone of Hawking’s stature triggered a series of questions on whether AI is a friend or foe. The term AI is defined as intelligence displayed by machines.

When a machine is able to mimic human “cognitive” functions, such as learning, reasoning or problem solving, AI comes into play.

To be fair, Hawking did not actually oppose AI in his statement.

He merely stated that unless the world can learn to manage and control AI to avoid the potential risks, AI could actually bring great disruption.

It’s not like we are not aware of this. In fact, Hollywood movies like A.I., Artificial Intelligence, I Robot, The Matrix, Terminator and Wall-E had already portrayed the good and bad side of AI.

I like to see AI in terms of the potential it offers, which is, to make life better for mankind.

We are already seeing that in the development of medical diagnosis equipment, autonomous self-driving cars and voice-powered personal assistants like Siri and Alexa.

There will obviously be more in the future, with more advancement and investment in technological innovations.

Critics of AI do not argue about the potential of AI, but they fear that it will take over many jobs. Kai-Fu Lee, founder of venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures and a top voice on tech in China, recently stated that robots are likely to replace 50 per cent of all jobs in the next decade.

“It is the decision engine that will replace people,” Lee said, adding that AI capabilities far exceeded those of humanity.

While this may be true, it’s not fair to put the whole blame on AI. Many jobs become obsolete because there are newer and more efficient ways of doing things.

Some examples of tasks that time forgot would be switchboard operators, and assembly line and production workers. It’s a natural journey of change, I believe.

Job obsolescence aside, I think the benefits of AI far outweigh the threats. Healthcare, for example, has always been a major concern for many.

AI can assist and improve our healthcare delivery and services tremendously in terms of advancing medical solutions through fast machine learning algorithms, precision molecular tools and robot assistants. Accuracy is key in the medical field and AI can be the answer when it comes to precision and accuracy.

It’s no secret that Big Data is crucial in many industries. Businesses, small or large, rely heavily on data collection and data processing.

The fact that AI is used in real-time data processing, where every information can be processed and analysed within seconds, has been beneficial to many industries.

Take for example, finance and banking. AI has already thus far successfully assisted in terms of analysing fraudulent financial activities and a host of scams. Imagine what else AI can do in this industry to facilitate smarter trading, less damage and a more personalised experience.

Personalisation is what many of us want today. It would be nice if, in future, we can have a product or service specially customised to each of us. I believe AI algorithms can make this possible.

Tools, such as Virtual Assistants, Chatbots or Robo-advisers, are already being bandied as the future of customer service, to make for a more personalised experience for people.

AI can also break down language barriers and ease global interactions in all industries.

It is not all that bad as it is made out to be. It will open up room for people to focus on other aspects of work, such as creativity, strategic activities and other high-value tasks, instead of mundane repetitive work.

There are more industries that will certainly benefit from AI, such as education, agriculture, transport and oil and gas.

Having said all that, the future will be better and more exciting with AI.

It’s like other technology advancements that are designed to help people work more productively, to improve the lives of individuals, to make certain tasks faster and convenient, and even to save lives.

Granted, there are critics that feel AI can be a threat to mankind. I have seen that only in movies.

Thus far, this technology has proven its potential to help us succeed and progress in life. We should not have any reason to fear AI for many years to come. After all, we humans created AI, hence, we should be able to find ways to manage and control it.

Ahmad Kushairi is the editor of BOTs, the weekly tech section in Life&Times. Trained in Maths, he has since traded his problem-solving skills with writing about how tech has helped to transform the world for the better. He can be reached via kushairi@mediaprima.com.my

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