Humanity is not a species that likes to sit still. Throughout our history, we’ve managed to continually progress. But since the Industrial Revolution, innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) and scientific breakthroughs have emerged at an unreal rate.
The U.S., for instance, accomplished the first powered airplane flight in 1903, only to land an astronaut on the moon by 1969. While landing people on the moon was a significant achievement, the invention of the semiconductor and subsequent invention of the computer led to profound technological and social changes.
The widespread availability of communication devices and the internet have led to scientific breakthroughs at a previously unthought-of pace. Throughout this constant and rapid change, there have been specific technologies – known as disruptive technologies – that had an outsized impact on the human experience.
Today’s AI Technology Is More Disruptive Than Its Predecessors
Now, we are witnessing the unveiling of a disruptive technology, artificial intelligence, that is quite different than its predecessors. Unlike the emergence of electricity or the desktop computer, AI is already augmenting scientific discoveries. In addition, this type of AI also has the potential to displace many human workers or even impact politics and economies.
In the past, disruptive technologies did displace some workers, but that technology ultimately created new career fields or enhanced human efforts. Currently, today’s AI has already had a similar impact.
According to CNN, pharmaceutical and medical researchers in the U.S. and Canada recently used AI software in their quest to find an antibiotic capable of treating Acinetobacter baumannii. This bacterium is one of the three top “superbugs” identified as a critical threat to human health by the World Health Organization, according to Scientific American.
The AI software managed to reduce human research from years to an astounding 1.5 hours. The use of artificial intelligence in the medical field has the potential to dramatically improve healthcare, but this research is a case where AI augmented human work.
In many societies, AI is considered as a replacement for human workers everywhere from offices to manufacturing plants. While automation exists in numerous industries, AI has the potential to carry out the same tasks but it can also identify and correct problems with minimal human oversight.
Some of the leading voices in artificial intelligence development have spoken about the potential replacement of human workers, but they have not adequately addressed the ensuing social issues such job displacement will create. As Yahoo! News writer Eugenia Logiuratto noted, U.S.-Brazilian researcher and founder of SentientNet Ben Goertzel stated, “The problem I see is in the interim period, when AIs are obsoleting one human job after another…I don’t know how (to) solve all the social issues.”
Goertzel’s statement underscores how vital it is to develop a social understanding of AI and its impact. We can talk technology and ethics all we want, but both governments and companies tend to overlook social issues because there are many unknown factors and difficulties.
AI Could Be Useful in Societies Where Populations Are Aging or Declining
The global population is still growing, but it is also aging. For countries that have problems due to people retiring from the workforce or a population that is declining overall, AI as a replacement for human workers could prove useful.
Most developed nations have stagnated or have declining population growth, and that situation is causing economic pressures that will only get worse. Japan and Germany, for instance, have an average age of around 47-48 years old, according to The World Factbook. Nations such as Russia and China are facing a population decline, notes Euronews.
AI, automation, and robotics could help alleviate this economic strain, and some AI proponents have mentioned this trend in their drive for increasingly advanced AI. However, it also implies that AI can supplement employee shortages or replace some workers outright.
Studies in the past have suggested that most fears of automation killing jobs were misplaced, according to Adi Gaskell of Forbes. However, those automation systems were expensive, narrowly focused and required a skilled labor force to maintain.
AI chatbots like ChatGPT, however, can run on your smartphone. They don’t necessarily require specialized equipment and would likely only require system integration on existing networks.
AI Tools Like ChatGPT Have Already Had a Profound Effect on Business
Many companies are already recognizing the potential of AI. Though AI tool ChatGPT was only released publicly in November 2022, it has already had a profound impact on businesses.
For instance, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna has already stated that he intends to replace nearly 8,000 jobs with AI over the next five years, according to Ars Technica. Other companies will likely follow suit.
Some Aspects of Artificial Intelligence Will Require Governmental Oversight
ChatGPT and other AI tools have caught the attention of governments, but surprisingly, it was AI developers who went to Congress to request oversight of artificial intelligence. On May 16, CEO and OpenAI cofounder Sam Altman testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in Washington and offered several suggestions for regulating AI, noted CNN.
While some of Altman’s suggestions were unworkable, it may not matter in the short term. Generative AIs are being developed at a rapid pace, and the U.S. government may not be able to create the necessary legislation in a timely manner. Also, there is the difficulty of our lawmakers understanding how AI should be regulated.
The White House has formed a working group to tackle AI-related issues. However, governmental policy is unlikely to result in the near term beyond mentioning some functional goals.
There is the military aspect of AI to consider as well. AI may not be able to reason as well as a human just yet, but its potential in the military world and hostile cyber spheres is considerable.
Unlike the disruptive technologies of the past, AI is modeled on the ability to augment, if not replicate, human thought. Currently the social implications of AI are simply not well known.
If governments want to properly regulate AI, then exploring AI’s technical capabilities is not enough. The potential disruptions to societies that AI can create must be investigated as well.