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Artificial Intelligence is here – what does it mean for you?

According to Elon Musk, we should all be very wary of artificial intelligence. In fact, Elon is so concerned about AI’s threat to humanity that he started an organisation (OpenAI) to research how to make it safer. Many experts disagree that there’s an impending threat and charge Elon Musk with stirring up unneeded panic, so who is right and how is AI going to affect your child’s future?

Over the past few years, AI has started to be used as a term for many different types of research but originally it was associated with the idea of a computer system that could think like a human. We’re not there just yet but we are getting very good at training computers to learn using something called machine learning. By delving into large amounts of data using special algorithms, computers can make human-like decisions, such as driving a car, without human intervention.

Google Deepmind is at the forefront of AI research and responsible for creating a system (AlphaGo) capable of beating one of the world’s leading Go board game players. This may sound like a relatively inconsequential feat – we’ve had computers that play chess for some time – but Go is a complicated game and Lee Se-dol, AlphaGo’s human opponent, is an extremely good player. Part of DeepMind’s secret sauce is something called deep learning, which is inspired by the structure of the human mind. In short, computer scientists can use the brain as a blueprint for designing AI systems. From playing Go to analysing medical reports, computers are now able to help us in practical ways. Of course, it also means that computers have more power than ever, something that clearly concerns Elon Musk.

One of the exciting and slightly troubling facts is that it isn’t really clear yet how this technology will impact our lives. Take self-driving cars – the technology is being tested by several different companies including, Google, Tesla and Uber but it is not widespread yet. It is very likely that in the long term car accidents will go down as a result of AI but driving is an incredibly complex task when you consider cyclists, distracted pedestrians and dodgy roads.

In an immediate sense, AI and machine learning, in particular, has already changed the way we interact with technology. Whether it’s facial recognition or film recommendations, our lives are already being influenced by incredibly smart algorithms. Over time, many job sectors will shift as the technology augments certain tasks or even replaces the need for human workers entirely. A wide variety of professions will be affected from truck driving to medicine.

In many ways we think Elon Musk is right to have concerns. We don’t really know yet what will happen when more and more AI and machine learning systems enter the public domain. How can we guarantee that these machines will always have our best interests at heart? It’s early days and we’re just starting to find out how a lot of these systems impact society. For now, we are optimistic and would encourage young people to get involved so that they can shape the future of AI.

One of the key reasons we remain so positive about AI is how beneficial the technology is proving to be. DeepMind, for example, just announced that it has been able to create a system that predicts the 3D shape that any protein will fold into, which is going to help scientists diagnose and treat diseases believed to be caused by ‘misfolded’ proteins, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and cystic fibrosis. This incredible scientific development would not be possible without AI and machine learning technology. With the right teams and the right goals, we believe that AI used wisely will be a net positive for humanity.

For better or worse, AI and machine learning are changing the way we live and work. While we cannot predict exactly how AI will impact the future, Fire Tech believes that people who understand the technology will be more in control of how they interact with it. Young people who are more aware of advances in technology will have the confidence to work with AI systems and be able to thrive in an increasingly tech-driven world.



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