IBM Watson – a commercial AI (Artificial Intelligence) platform for businesses. Watson has all kinds of encyclopedias, dictionaries and millions of data sets accounting upto roughly 4TB. Watson infers and find the context of a question and rank them based on its search and learning which gets better with training over time. According to IBM Watson deployment in healthcare, 90% of the nurses followed Watson’s guidance in the field. Can there be any negative impact of Artificial Intelligence?

All AI engines are designed to record our actions, interests, habits, personality and behavior to serve us better due to its deep learning capability which we call as machine learning. This could be your personal assistant taking care of your appointments, reminders, travel, restaurant, hotel bookings, cruising in your driver less Sedan on a highway without worrying about changing lane or keeping the speed under limit. AI is successful in identifying objects in an image, can do customer service without much fuss and really make social media interactions more personalized and relevant to end users. This piece explores the past, present and future of AI and its impact on us and society.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”— Stephen Hawking told the BBC

 The Good

The Quest for AI has been there for more than 6 decades but it has really picked up in last 1 decade. There are three key components for AI: processing power and data storage which is easily accessible through cloud computing, connectivity allowing fast data movement and lower cost computing power.

In recent years AI has been introduced to different devices personal virtual assistant, smart thermostats, smartphones. At a larger scale implementation, AI is making valuable contribution to society and it can really give you goosebumps. Recently, I stumbled on FarmLogs which helps farmers take advantage of AI. It is estimated by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that world population will be 9.7 million and feeding them would be a biggest challenge for farmers whose farming land would be shrunk significantly by then. FarmLogs app let farmers monitor weather, farm fields, soil insights and historical data and technology to get high yield and profit. Using their real time satellite imagery farmers can monitor irregular growth of plants.

In United States, an in progress AI by an Intel employee reduced the curated Cancer medicine based on medical history and DNA structure in just 24 hours. The same procedure usually takes 30 days and this could be game changing with better chances of a cure. The method is more accurate and successful.

There is great deal of AI being used in Customer service industry. Leading  businesses have built automated bots which handle FAQs and automation of simple tasks. It is a profitable deal for companies to ensure that clients are getting services without waiting for any representative (human) and with far more accuracy (to err is human). Messenger apps like Telegram, Facebook Messenger. We will see great deal of AI in this field and it is expected that this will be game changing for this section. Rumor has it WhatsApp will be coming up with bots which will be a welcoming upgrade for WhatsApp business users.

The Bad

AI runs on data and loves having more and more to become more accurate and relevant. So far AI domain is led by tech giants who have big purse and big volume of consumer base which serves them perfectly. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Uber they have enough data to build AI products which their businesses have collected over the period of time. New players are able to create great product but they end up in hands of big big players to expanse their authority in AI field. Ford’s acquisition of Argo AI, Google taking over Hali Labs, Twitter bought ZipDial and Facebook purchased Masqueraderecently.

According to CBInsights, 37 private companies using AI algorithms across different verticals have been acquired in the first quarter of 2017 alone. Since 2012, the total number of purchased companies is more than 250. It is best in Consumers interest that technology is equally available for new AI entrants and make it more transparent and less dependent on single authority. This will benefit consumer to have different options from to choose from and would help maintain healthy competition without giving any single authority. Think about a world without Android OS which is constantly keeping Apple to innovate and keep up with its counterpart.

Now I am going towards a less tech and psychological impact of artificial intelligence on humans. You may call it a negative impact of artificial intelligence. According to Liesl Yearsley, former CEO of Cognea now acquired by IBM wrote in her MIT Technology Review post that their team of programmers developing virtual agents (chat bots) found astonishingly higher comfort level and inclination among humans (users of virtual agents) to strike a bond with AI agent. She goes on to explain that we prefer to reach out to a friend who is always there for us irrespective of our behavior towards them unlike a real human casual friend who does not return your calls or text.

Surprisingly we want to establish a real bond with AI agents under the illusion that it truly cares about us. This could possibly be abused by companies who are primarily aiming to use AI for their search, e-commerce and social media engines. If commercially programmed an e-commerce virtual assistant can get you to think about ordering pizza when you think about food instead of telling you about a homemade healthy recipe. We are witnessing a great deal of impact of social media on our lives in a big way. It has a power to change society based on half truths and fictitious facts. Companies, developing these technologies must and should be transparent about their business practices incorporated in their AI products and services keeping healthy human life first. An authority is needed to watch over such businesses and protect human race from abuse of commercial greed.

The Ugly

Our increasing reliance on technology used in healthcare to finance to justice system, the lack of human scrutiny is dangerous in high stakes decisions which could be threatening. In respect to drastic changes that lie ahead for employment market due to increased deployment of Artificial Intelligence systems. How we manage and create AI today will have far reaching consequences on our future.

AI is still not mature in many fields right now. A lot of skepticism abound recently after a Tesla electric Model S Sedan crashed in Florida killing a 40 years old man. The car comes with technology of limited self driving skill. According to Tesla Motors, the manufacturer of the car, when operating on autopilot mode, the driver should always be ready to take control. Experts of the industry say that technology is not fully mature and instead of stating self driving, it should be labelled driver-assist, semi automatic or partially automated.

Such cars with a driver-assist feature can travel on highways at a constant speed, it can keep a safe distance from other cars, brake and accelerate according to the traffic flow, and even pass slower vehicles. However, drivers should still be carefully monitoring the road.

Recently, Hillary Clinton voiced her concern about impact of AI on our society and highlighted our under preparedness although she did not point out any specifics but largely the concern was about dealing with providing employment to those who lose their job to AI automation namely driver less cars, drone delivery carriers etc and digital surveillance where everything is recorded in every typical AI system.  She attempted to throw the weight behind the argument by mentioning some really smart people like Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking who warned about negative impact of artificial intelligence.

Final Thoughts – Positive or Negative Impact of Artificial Intelligence

IBM Watson, Amazon Echo, Virtual Assistants, driver less cars and other AI products bring us close to Utopian reality. They help us being productive and make most of our time with seamless integration with different services. Artificial Intelligence does not seem like an evil Terminator created by mankind who will overpower and will wage war against us. At least I do not see AI doing anything evil in its current setting but there is no doubt that it’s progress is outpacing our preparedness because we are not focusing on its effects. We have some great AI Systems of our time but companies working on AI should also explore filling the void which AI would create in our lives.


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