The future of AI’s impact on society -Artificial intelligence is already changing society at a faster pace than we realize
The future of AI’s impact on society
As artificial intelligence continues its rapid evolution, what influence do humans have?
The past decade, and particularly the past few years, has been transformative for artificial intelligence, not so much in terms of what we can do with this technology as what we are doing with it. Some place the advent of this era to 2007, with the introduction of smartphones. At its most essential, intelligence is just intelligence, whether artifact or animal. It is a form of computation, and as such, a transformation of information. The cornucopia of deeply personal information that resulted from the willful tethering of a huge portion of society to the internet has allowed us to pass immense explicit and implicit knowledge from human culture via human brains into digital form. Here we can not only use it to operate with human-like competence but also produce further knowledge and behavior by means of machine-based computation.
In the 1990s, probabilistic and Bayesian methods revolutionized ML and opened the door to some of the most pervasive AI technologies now available: searching through massive troves of data. This search capacity included the ability to do semantic analysis of raw text, astonishingly enabling web users to find the documents they seek out of trillions of webpages just by typing only a few words.
AI is core to some of the most successful companies in history in terms of market capitalization—Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon. Along with information and communication technology (ICT) more generally, AI has revolutionized the ease with which people from all over the world can access knowledge, credit, and other benefits of contemporary global society. Such access has helped lead to massive reduction of global inequality and extreme poverty, for example by allowing farmers to know fair prices, the best crops, and giving them access to accurate weather predictions.
Artificial intelligence is already changing society at a faster pace than we realize, but at the same time it is not as novel or unique in human experience as we are often led to imagine. Other artifactual entities, such as language and writing, corporations and governments, telecommunications and oil, have previously extended our capacities, altered our economies, and disrupted our social order—generally though not universally for the better. The evidence assumption that we are on average better off for our progress is ironically perhaps the greatest hurdle we currently need to overcome: sustainable living and reversing the collapse of biodiversity.
AI and ICT more generally may well require radical innovations in the way we govern, and particularly in the way we raise revenue for redistribution. We are faced with transnational wealth transfers through business innovations that have outstripped our capacity to measure or even identify the level of income generated. Further, this new currency of unknowable value is often personal data, and personal data gives those who hold it the immense power of prediction over the individuals it references.
But beyond the economic and governance challenges, we need to remember that AI first and foremost extends and enhances what it means to be human, and in particular our problem-solving capacities. Given ongoing global challenges such as security, sustainability, and reversing the collapse of biodiversity, such enhancements promise to continue to be of significant benefit, assuming we can establish good mechanisms for their regulation. Through a sensible portfolio of regulatory policies and agencies, we should continue to expand—and also to limit, as appropriate—the scope of potential AI applications.