Will artificial intelligence be good or bad for us going forward? If you have been following the back and forth around AI, it can make your head spin. On one side is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX and one of the chief visionaries in the United States waving the AI warning flag. On the other side are people like Jeff Bezos and companies like Amazon.com (AMZN) and IBM (IBM) Watson, which are touting what AI will do for them and for us going forward. So, which side is right? Is AI something to fear or something to welcome? The truth is that it may be a little of both.
Musk is warning us at the top of his lungs about the dark side of AI - something that may take over at some point in the future. When that happens, will human beings become inconsequential to machines? In fact, this is one key reason Musk has invested in the AI industry. So, he can keep a close eye on the advancements of the technology.
On the other side are all the executives at companies, scientists and engineers that are rapidly moving forward into an area we have never seen before. Many of the companies advancing with AI will be helpful, but many others may not. That is where the threat and the opportunity lies.
Is AI an Opportunity or Threat? Perhaps Both...
While this is exciting, it is also all very new and unknown. It’s the unknown that is potentially dangerous. That uncertainty means we are in effectively blind. We don’t yet know what tomorrow will look like and how AI will change things. It’s the great unknown. We think we know, but that’s our own arrogance. The truth is, we don’t know. We have to resist letting the technology move out ahead of our knowledge and ability to control it.
If that’s the case, shouldn’t we step forward carefully and in measured steps? Shouldn’t we take a well thought-out approach? After all, in a pillow fight, once the feathers are flying around the room, you can’t put them back inside the pillow. Same with AI. Once it’s unleashed and has matured, at some point we may no longer be able to control it.
AI is considered an intelligence... an artificial intelligence. That’s the point that Musk is making. So, is it going to be an opportunity, or a threat? What I am learning so far, I get the sense it will be both. So how do we encourage the opportunity and blunt the threat? That’s the challenge we face today.
Speeches on AI, Cloud, Wireless and Telecom
AI development will start out slowly, then year after year, as it gains traction, it will do more and more. AI may be like the story I tell when I give speeches. The story that if you drop a bunny rabbit into a pot of boiling water, it will hop out. But, if you put it in a pot of room temperature water, and turn it up, bit by bit, it will eventually cook.
Amazon.com sees a big future for AI and machine learning at the company, right along with Amazon Go retail stores, delivery drones and loads of other new technology. However, as that technology matures and gets smarter, at some point it may cross over the line in the sand, thereby changing everything. When that happens, according to Musk, it may be too late to make changes and protect ourselves.
There are companies in the middle ground like IBM. IBM says their AI Watson will add to our natural abilities and help man do more, and better, while still staying under the control of man. It will help us sort through the mountains of data we gather, but can’t use. That sounds like AI will always be there as a resource for us to use... which sounds good. However, not every AI company has the same goals. Many are not even thinking along this same track.
IBM World of Watson Was Eye Opening for AI
When I attended the IBM World of Watson event a few months ago, I was amazed at the extent of where Watson is today, and all the different companies and industries that are partnering with and using Watson today. Still, Watson is in its very early days.
IBM offers a very positive side of AI. In fact, IBM doesn’t call their AI, artificial intelligence. Rather they talk about cognitive intelligence. Is that because the term AI has some negative implications or is it just their way to brand Watson? Perhaps a little of both.
I believe some companies will use AI to a limited extent, to improve their offerings. This will be successful for many of them. It will make them more competitive. The early adopters will have a competitive advantage for a while, until AI becomes an ordinary cost of doing business.
AI is a Major Step Into Uncharted Territory
However, as AI continues to grow in power and influence over time, the question remains, will it turn into something to fear as Elon Musk is warning? That is the important question we all must ask ourselves today. Artificial Intelligence is a major step into uncharted territory.
We already use AI today. Think about the smartphone with Apple Siri (AAPL), Google Now (GOOG) and Microsoft Cortana (MSFT). The next level of AI is already in the marketplace, with technology like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These are all very exciting, but with each step forward, we lose more privacy. So, AI development is a double-edged sword. We must keep that in mind as we go forward.
How a company acts is important. Too often, companies don’t act correctly for a civilized society. A friend of mine told me this morning that her Amazon Kindle automatically downloaded Alexa - that's something she doesn’t want... something she doesn’t trust. She doesn’t want anything she says or does to be listened to by others or recorded by Amazon.
Yet, it's there, and she didn’t authorize it’s download to her device. She is angry at Amazon. Is this what Amazon wants? Do they even care? Or are they happy forcing their AI down our throats, like it or not?
Amazon Kindle Downloaded Alexa Without Asking Permission
As good as AI is, it still invades privacy to an extent never before imagined. Companies must be careful, because not everyone is an AI fan. Left unchecked, companies will not stop in their rollout of AI. Not that AI is bad - AI certainly has a good side as well. There are two sides to every coin, two edges to every sword, and it cuts both ways.
In fact, as any doctor will tell you, there is always a little poison in any medicine. OK, enough with the analogies, you get the point I am making. We can’t stop AI development, so we must be careful of it and get it right from the start. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our society.
So, today I tend to think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Perhaps tomorrow will be filled with all sorts of new technology, both good and bad. Perhaps in the early stages, AI will add to our abilities and our civilization. That will get us feeling comfortable and ultimately dependent on the technology, the same way we are dependent on our iPhones and Android smartphones.
The question is: What comes next? Down the road, will we be happy with what we are starting today with AI? Will this be good or bad for us as a people? I think some of AI will add to our civilization, but I also fear what Elon Must is warning us about. Parts of this next AI revolution may indeed grow far beyond our ability to control it at some point in the future.
All we can do is take what other important and smart people say seriously and think about it. So Elon and Jeff, keep the debate brewing. Keep bringing us all up to speed on AI. No, I do not think we should stop AI. Not that we could, if we wanted to. But let’s be smart about its development. After all, tomorrow is a world we don’t yet know. So, let’s go forward with our eyes wide open, not eyes wide shut.
Jeff Kagan is an Equities.com columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com. His web site is www.jeffKAGAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan
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