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How our world has changed with artificial intelligence

While AI has changed our world for the better, it is not at all evident that it is the panacea for the current state of the human condition

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In this newsletter, we’ll look at how the world we live is being radically altered by artificial intelligence (AI) and to touch on some of its major impacts and implications.

The emergence of AI makes Alvin Toffler’s 1970 path-breaking idea of Future Shock about an impending “post-industrial society” seem almost blasé.

However, Toffler did predict that our world will face constant change. He felt that consumer goods will become increasingly disposable, designs of products will have short life spans, skill sets of workers and professions will change rapidly, much of the global population will become nomads, that is, there will be widespread migration and so on.

All this has happened. Writing his second book, The Third Wave, in 1980 Toffler did forecast on how a knowledge-based society would massively alter our lives although he did not exactly predict how AI in particular will change the world.

Impact of AI

These days, hardly a moment passes when we don’t read or see something posted in social media about AI.

I have taken the liberty to use the pervasive AI tool, ChatGPT, to summarise what Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, the multi-billion-dollar company which is at the cutting edge of AI technology, considers will be the impact of AI on society:

  • AI is one of the most powerful technological advancements in history, comparable to the invention of the internet and electricity. Huang often highlights how AI has the potential to revolutionise every industry by making processes more efficient and enabling new capabilities
  • AI can automate repetitive tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on more creative and complex activities. This can significantly boost productivity and innovation across different sectors, from healthcare to finance to manufacturing
  • AI can play a critical role in addressing climate change and promoting sustainability. Huang has pointed out that AI can optimise energy usage, reduce waste and contribute to the development of renewable energy sources
  • While AI can drive economic growth and create new job opportunities, it also poses challenges such as job displacement. Huang advocates for policies and educational programmes to reskill workers and prepare them for an AI-driven economy
  • He recognises the importance of addressing the ethical and social implications of AI. This includes ensuring AI systems are fair and transparent, and respect privacy. Huang supports efforts to develop guidelines and standards for responsible AI development and deployment
  • Nvidia has been at the forefront of AI research and development. Huang often speaks about how Nvidia’s technologies, such as graphics processing units (GPUs) and deep learning frameworks, are enabling breakthroughs in AI
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For AI geeks, have a quick view of the video below of Jensen Huang giving his own view of ‘future shock’:

Huang is very sanguine and positive about the impact of AI and has argued that it will enhance all aspects of human life.

Ethical challenges

A darker view of AI suggests with its deployment in our daily lives, it will raise many serious ethical, governance and legal issues that now need to be urgently addressed. I will only touch on some of the more serious aspects of this problem.

A serious issue is that AI applications will lead to bias and discrimination in many dimensions of social life.

Take a simple example: if a particular AI tool is male-centric, it will create biases and discrimination against females. This goes for other forms of biases. The individuals and their companies behind a particular AI development will carry their own value biases and those of their companies.

AI companies are profit-making companies, and so ethics and morality will not be a priority or even a consideration in the deployment of AI tools and products. In worst-case scenarios, AI tools have been used to produce deepfakes for political and other non-ethical purposes.

So comprehensive regulations to govern the advancement of AI are needed so that such biases and ethical challenges are eliminated or at least minimised.

Another area of concern is the deployment of AI in healthcare. The implications are not just the loss of jobs to healthcare workers. Tsinghua University will launch this year the first AI hospital in the world, supposedly able to treat 3,000 patients daily.

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The ethical challenges are immediately apparent. Would patients be comfortable to interact with robotic doctors or nurses?

Human doctors normally have the role of informing and assuring patients of the consequences of a surgery or drug usage. So the patient ultimately decides on her choice of treatment and medication by relating to another human being.

How would such fundamental issues as patient protection be regulated in an AI-run hospital operated mainly by robots?

Another serious implication of AI is how it would affect the war-ridden world we live in. How do we limit or control the use of AI to develop state-of-the-art weapons systems? Would the UN or any other international body be able to regulate such developments?

The use of AI models and research in the military-industrial complexes of the world’s global powers is already quite evident. Unfortunately, there can be no checks on such developments.

So while it is true that AI has changed and will continue to change our world for the better, it is not at all evident that it is the panacea for the current state of the human condition.

Johan Saravanamuttu
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
15 June 2024

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Johan Saravanamuttu
Dr Johan Saravanamuttu, a long-time Aliran member, is emeritus professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, adjunct professor at the Asia Europe Institute, University of Malaya and adjunct senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. He believes in politics as a vocation but is frustrated that it is often the refuge of opportunists and the morally depraved
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