Myths about artificial intelligence range from fearful reports of robots to outlandish expectations of the technology. Today, consumers encounter artificial intelligence continuously through smartphones, customer service centers, websites, and appliances. Surveys show that nearly nine in 10 Americans use some form of artificial intelligence device, and 79% of people report AI having a perceived positive impact on their lives. Despite the overwhelmingly positive uptake of the technology, films, art, and literature have long warned about the potential dangers of AI in science fiction storytelling. So, how much of this is based on reality?
In order to answer these questions, it’s important to look at the facts, where AI really stands and why many of these AI projects are untrue (at least in our lifetime).
1. Myth: Intelligent machines will take over the world
Some of the world’s leading technology experts, including Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have expressed concerns with the dangers of AI “superintelligence” developing to a point where humans could not control it. By some measure, the technology is currently blossoming and making exponential gains; however, we are still a very long way off from the dystopian future outlined in science fiction.
In April 2019, the European Commission published guidelines to keep the EU’s 500 million citizens protected from runaway AI. The aim is to keep AI “trustworthy.” The guidelines prohibit the creation of autonomous weapons or social scoring systems, such as those currently being developed in China. While the guidelines did successfully outline concerns, they did not draw “red lines” around the development of AI at this time, as the government did not want to hamper innovation and growth.
AI, like all other technologies and human developments, requires oversight and regulation, so intelligent machines taking over will certainly be beyond our lifetimes.
2. Myth: AI will take our jobs
Technological Unemployment, or job loss due to technological advancement, has been a topic of debate since the invention of the wheel, which displaced countless physical laborers. The two great US revolutions in the past century or so have been the Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution. The unemployment rate in the year 1900 was 10%, and in 2019 it is between 3% and 4%. With the thousands of jobs that have been eliminated due to the development of technology and machines, new jobs have always sprung up, even if it takes some time.
AI expert and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee predicted that AI will replace 40% of the current jobs in the next 15-25 years. These numbers no longer only affect blue-collar workers, either. White collar jobs are already being taken by machines: translators, journalists, doctors, bankers, and lawyers. Many jobs, however, are predicted to remain--anything requiring human compassion and creativity.
What’s likely to happen is AI will upskill the workforce. Certain mundane tasks will be automated, moving human employees to more creative or higher skill-level projects.
3. Myth: AI is only for elite enterprises
In a 2018 study, Narrative Science found that the number of businesses utilizing AI grew by 60% year-over-year, but still only 15% of businesses are taking advantage of the technology. While much of the innovation is happening with tech giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook, the technology is now available and capable of helping all businesses large and small.
The current trend for smaller businesses is for AI to enter through customer service. It’s not unusual to encounter businesses employing chatbots or automated responsive phone systems, but the capabilities are quickly spreading to other departments. Predictive analytics are giving rise to competitive insights and effective new strategies. Beyond customer service and analytics, marketing departments are streamlining workflows and offering data-driven product recommendations to customers. Natural language processing allows for more intuitive social listening across platforms.
Dispel the myth that AI is only for elite enterprises; at this point, any business would be hard-pressed to find a reason not to invest in this rapidly evolving technology.
A practical view of AI
It’s crucial that businesses evaluate the technology through practical lenses. Sci-fi writers write fiction, and while their predictions played an integral role in the development of AI, it’s time for the non-fiction plotline to emerge. Artificial intelligence is a tool with unlimited possibilities for humanity, but, there are limits to this technology and still very much a need for humans to improve its functionality.