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Why Are People So Scared Of AI ?

There’s no shortage of debate around artificial intelligence (AI) today and it has filtered through to practically every medium in society making it one of the primary discussions in society alongside politics, sex, war (terrorism), health and ecology. But what is surprising is that this newcomer has so much opposition at a time when it is in relative infancy. Why are people so annoyed — or as some eschatologist’s would put — so scared?!

I think a part of the answer is anchored in that we as a species are afraid that our relative superiority, towards the rest of the living animals on our planet, will be lost if we hand over some cognitive properties to a machine. But just being merely incrementally more intelligent as a result of our higher evolution is not limited to problem-solving. Subjects such as generative computation, self-reflection, the promiscuous combination of ideas, abstract thought and mental symbols (what are commonly referred to as constituents of thinking) all belong to humans and are one of the reasons we are blessed with creativity. So offloading a volume of entirely worthless brain activities to tend to things that only the human mind can address is a pretty good impetus to furthering the common good.

And this form of ‘thinking’ (intelligence) is also where humans differ immeasurably from machines. Which brings us to the next question of what ‘intelligence’ is.

The field of AI has studied only the very top end of the spectrum of thinking and although it’s desirous to try and ‘reverse engineer’ human intelligence, and it has visibly captured the popular imagination, nonetheless the issue at hand is that we haven’t yet captured a deep and thorough understanding of human intelligence.

And if we don’t know what makes up human intelligence, why are we even talking about artificial intelligence?

All this noise comes from apprehension and we are an anxious species. The uncertainty of AI is above all about timescales and us humans evolve in an environment where the short term matters the most. More, the apparent bias (against AI) in the public opinion today clearly is in favor of strategies that might produce modest short-term benefits (limitations of technology that could favorably affect jobs) but simultaneously offer almost no forecast to more effective second-generation approaches (designing a world in which it is normal either to work for far fewer hours per week or for far fewer years per lifetime) while benefitting from tremendous increases that AI could provide in virtually every arena of mankind.

So for now, unbeknownst to the masses, AI powering Google Assistant, Siri, Spotify, Call of Duty, Amazon, X.ai, Mona, Lola, Luka, Mya, Futurenda, Mila, Everypixel, and others will continue to try and make our lives easier so we can get on with other things that are more important. And if you remain open-minded and responsive to change you might even enjoy this helping hand.

In the meantime, it seems that the smartest people around think that one of the greatest threats today is machine intelligence. They may be right, but there are other types of human activity that have a track record worth worrying more about.

AiAndrew PatersonComment