By Walter Pienciak, Senior Manager, Strategic Programs, IEEE Standards Association
When I talk with people about Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is a common theme: a lot of people’s ideas are grounded in science fiction. This is good and bad. It’s good because people have some idea about the topic. It’s bad for two reasons: first, what is shown in science fiction is a writer’s projection of the future; and second, “A quiet day in the AI lab” doesn’t make for a good movie, but “Things don’t work out as expected” does–so there’s often some concern and fear.
But seventyish years after its emergence as a distinct area of study, AI appears to be moving from research labs, academic institutions, and corporate skunkworks into the commercial market and the larger world in a significant way. Artificial intelligence is a feature of products in the marketplace now. AI techniques are being applied in business environments to improve efficiency and profitability.
It seems as if this surge of interest, development, and market acceptance will make it a permanent fixture in our world. But how will it impact our lives?
The “psionic brains” from the Golden Age of science fiction never came into existence. No, we are still exploring and understanding the human brain and mind. The current level of AI that is operating in decision-support systems and improved predictive modeling is math-based. It has no resemblance in design or functionality to self-aware anything. But, through the use of advanced matrix algebra, higher-dimensional geometries, and statistical mechanisms, it does provide greater accuracy and new approaches in traditional fields. It can be applied to many existing business practices. And it’s helping new fields to advance, one example being Big Data, where new tools and approaches are required to sift increasingly large data sets to find the patterns and correlations from which value (and advantage) are extracted.
While I earlier cast aside science-fiction-based concerns, still there are valid issues to consider. Autonomous weapons systems must be discussed and considered quite seriously. And I just mentioned Big Data. There are practical questions such as the impact on personal privacy by better correlations that can connect previously unconnectable data points. Do we like being viewed as prey by product-focused individuals and organizations who find browsing and purchasing patterns both compelling and manipulable?
As AI usage accelerates, objective consideration of its impact on humanity is essential, and must not be lost in a market-driven worldview. The recently announced “Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Wellbeing with Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems” — written by more than one hundred of our global thought leaders and experts in Artificial Intelligence, ethics, and related issues–is an important and timely step forward in the conversation and usage of AI.
This effort has been under way for some time; and its participants have worked hard to prepare that seminal document, intended in part to engage the public and solicit comments in response. I invite you–ask you, actually–to read and consider this important paper on the subject. Share it with your friends and colleagues, and discuss the material with them. Your thoughts and comments on this topic that affects all of us now, and increasingly in the future, are both welcome and important. Join the conversation.