AI – Panacea or Peril?

Consistent with our overall focus on data in this issue of Workforce Solutions Review, we wanted to offer a perspective on the current state of artificial intelligence. The initial impression I held as I started to conduct research and consult knowledgeable people in this field was that this review would be filled with the promise of exciting opportunities that were going to be addressed with advances in AI. Those promising developments do exist across every functional business area, but what was surprising was that the risks and potential liabilities were just as compelling and voluminous. This article captures some of the most stimulating recent advances in AI, but it also balances that enthusiasm. Recent evidence highlights a myriad of risks and concerns that demand consideration if not a cautionary reason to “pump the brakes” on widespread deployment of AI.

Back in 1942, before the concept of AI was coined, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote “The Three Laws of Robotics”: A moral code to keep our machines and what we had yet to call AI in check. These three laws of robotics were as follows; a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm. The second law, a robot must obey orders given by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the first law. And the third, a robot must protect its own existence if such protection does not conflict with the first and the second law. In 2004 one of my favorite movies, I Robot, was released in Hollywood based on several of Isaac Asimov’s short stories that dealt with artificial intelligence. I Robot presented the challenges of adhering to three laws with AI that mirrored human capabilities in many ways.

It is no surprise that Hollywood tends to exaggerate for dramatic effects when it comes to cinematic presentation. In 1984 The Terminator first appeared on the big screen and five subsequent releases reinforce that there is some fascination with this topic even when these killer robots start destroying humans. Many experts fear a super-intelligent AI that will outsmart us and even potentially wipe us off the face of the Earth. That is about the most extreme outcome that one could fathom, but the mere fact that intelligent humans have these cautionary observations merits further investigation of both sides of the AI coin.

Positively, AI is also seen as a miracle invention based on the ability to make faster, smarter decisions that people. Staying with the cinematic depiction, you see AI as a helper to humans, assisting us in all kinds of tasks from complex calculations, expertly playing interactive games (Chess and others) and overseeing multiple complex operations simultaneously. My own favorite is “21” a true story about six students from MIT that go to Las Vegas to count cards using codes, hand signals, and a watchful eye . This movie shows the power of predictive analysis and teaches the viewers how data-based decisions can be profitable for any business.

It is difficult to debate that Artificial Intelligence is one of the greatest inventions of humanity and if you believe that Hollywood mirrors our society AI will either be the death of us or facilitate human inventiveness and physical abilities that will allow us to do amazing things! Look at the good, bad, and even the ugly side of AI in search of your own assessment. 

The Good, Bad and the Ugly

Before we explore the Good, Bad and the Ugly side of AI, it is important to understand that there are distinct types of artificial intelligence available today. John McCarthy invented the term Artificial Intelligence in 1950 and he described it this way, “Every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions, and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves.”Artificial Intelligence is the ability of a computer program to learn and think. In short, artificial intelligence involves a program doing something that we would normally rely on the intelligence of a human.

Before we jump on to the advantages and disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence it is important to understand that there are also distinct types of AI. There are two main types of AI based on its capabilities – Narrow (weak) AI1 and artificial general intelligence that is also called AGI or strong AI.

Weak or Narrow AI focuses on one task and cannot perform beyond its limitations, and it is common in our daily lives. (“7 Types of Artificial Intelligence That You Should Know in 2022”) AGI, or strong AI can understand and learn any intellectual task. Narrow AI is at least faster if not more intelligent than humans at a specific task or set of tasks, like playing the board game or finding patterns in large volume of data. On the other hand, an AGI would beat humans at several cognitive tasks like hacking, technology development and assessing risks or recurring trends.

Narrow AI is already used in areas like, speech and image recognition, search engines, spam filters, product, and movie recommendations. Narrow AI also has potential to enable emerging technologies like driverless cars, diagnostic tools for rapid scientific discovery and digital assistants for medical image analysis.

In the near-term, some of these technologies also have the potential to be abused by malicious groups. The cost of attacks requiring massive human labor and time could be reduced, and new threats exploiting vulnerabilities in AI systems could emerge. AI can automate labor-intensive cyberattacks, coordinate fleets of drones, allow for mass surveillance through facial recognition and social data mining, or generate realistic fake videos for political propaganda and public disinformation.

The Good

The advantages of artificial intelligence applications are numerous and range across most functions.

Automation

Automation is the most obvious benefit of AI technology. Automation not only enables higher production rates and increased productivity, but also allows more efficient use of raw materials, improved product quality, reduced lead times, and superior safety. Automation can also help to free resources that can be used for more important things.

Smart Decision Making

Artificial Intelligence has always been used to optimize business decisions. AI facilitates data delivery, trend analysis, providing forecasts, and quantify uncertainties to make the best decisions for the company. If AI is not programmed to imitate human emotions, it will remain unbiased on the matter at hand and will help to make the right decision to support business efficiency.

Faster Decision Making 

In addition to smarter making decisions, getting transactions completed faster is a valuable commodity. AI enables machines to make decisions faster than a human and conduct actions quicker.

Enhanced Customer Experience 

AI-powered solutions can help businesses to respond to customer queries and grievances quickly and address the situations efficiently. The use of chatbots that integrate AI with Natural Language Processing technology can generate highly personalized messages for customers and resolve most issues without human interaction. This helps to find the best solution for their needs and reduces the strain from the customer service staff, which will lead to better productivity.

Medical Advances

The use of Artificial Intelligence solutions in the healthcare sector is becoming increasingly popular these days. Remote patient monitoring technology, for instance, allows healthcare providers to perform clinical diagnoses and suggest treatments quickly without requiring the patient to visit the hospital in-person. AI can also be useful in tracking locations and volumes of contagious diseases and even predict their future effects and outcomes.

Solving Complex Problems

The developments in AI technologies from basic Machine Learning to advanced Deep Learning models have made it capable to solve complex issues. From fraud detection and personalized customer interactions to weather forecasting and medical diagnosis, AI is helping businesses across industries to find the right solutions to address their challenges more efficiently.

Business Continuity

Business forecasting using AI technology helps companies make critical decisions and prepare them for any emergency to ensure business continuity. As risk management heavily relies on data management and analysis today, AI-powered tools can help organizations to respond to the crisis proactively. AI and Machine Learning can also create scenarios to help businesses plan for a speedy disaster recovery strategy.

Managing Repetitive Tasks

Performing recurring business tasks is not just time-consuming but it can also be monotonous and reduce the productivity of the employees over time. AI-powered Robotic Process Automation tools can automate interactions between different business systems and make the tiresome work easy for the company. It can imitate the actions of humans within the digital systems in the HR, IT, marketing, or sales departments to execute any business process quickly without needing any manual effort.

Minimizing Errors

AI tools also help to reduce the chances of manual errors. The phrase “human error” came about because eventually all humans can make a mistake. Computers, however, do not make these mistakes if they are programmed properly. With Artificial intelligence, the decisions are taken from the previously gathered information applying a certain set of algorithms. Errors are reduced and the chance of reaching accuracy with a greater degree of precision is a possibility. This can be especially beneficial for businesses that cannot afford to make any mistakes.

Increased Business Efficiency

Artificial Intelligence can help to ensure 24-hour service availability and will deliver the same performance and consistency throughout the day. An Average human will work for 4–6 hours a day excluding the breaks but using AI machines are able to work 24×7 without any breaks and they do not even get bored, unlike humans. This improves the efficiency of the business and reduces the stress on the employees, who can be re-assigned to perform more complex business tasks that require manual intervention.

Zero Risks

Another big advantage of AI is that humans can overcome many risks by letting AI robots do them for us. Whether it be defusing a bomb, going to space, exploring the deepest parts of oceans, machines with metal bodies are resistant in nature and can survive unfriendly atmospheres and have the capacity to be used in any natural or man-made disaster.

New Inventions

AI is powering many inventions in every domain that will enable humans to solve many complex problems and invent solutions that provide benefit to many.

The Bad

As every bright side has a darker version in it. Artificial Intelligence also has some disadvantages. Let us see some of them.

High Costs

The ability to create a machine that can simulate human intelligence is no small feat. It requires plenty of time and resources machines need repairing and maintenance that can cost large sums of money. AI also needs to operate on the latest hardware and software to stay updated and meet the latest requirements, thus making it quite costly.

No Creativity

A big disadvantage of AI is that it cannot learn to think creatively. AI is capable of learning over time with pre-fed data and past experiences, but it lacks the ability to be creative in its approach. The concept of creativity goes against the core of AI.

Increase in Unemployment

One of the biggest disadvantages of artificial intelligence is that AI is slowly replacing several repetitive tasks machines or bots. The reduction in the need for human interaction has resulted in the death of many job opportunities. Elon Musk even predicted it would eliminate all work. A simple example is the chatbot which is a big advantage to organizations, but a nightmare for employees who have seen their customer interactions replaced by a computer. A study by McKinsey predicts that AI will replace at least 30% of human labor by 2030.

Make Humans Lazy

AI applications automate most tedious and repetitive tasks. Since we do not have to memorize things or solve puzzles to get the job done, we tend to use our brains less and less. AI is making humans lazy with its applications automating most of the work. Humans tend to get addicted to these inventions which can cause a problem to future generations.

No Ethics

Ethics and morality are important human features that can be difficult to incorporate into an AI. The rapid progress of AI has raised several concerns that one day, AI will grow uncontrollably, and eventually wipe out humanity. This moment is referred to as the AI singularity.

No Emotion

There is no doubt that machines are much better when it comes to working efficiently but they cannot replace the human connection that makes the team. Machines cannot develop a bond with humans which is an essential attribute when comes to working with groups or teams.

The Ugly

It is undeniable that potentially even more transformative technology is currently being developed. Prominent scientists and technologists like the late Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have voiced concern for the risks associated with the accelerating development of artificial intelligence (AI). The emerging field of AI safety has already begun discussing guidelines to tackle the potential dangers of the technology. Sessions devoted to AI safety and ethics have taken place at major scientific conferences and several books and articles on the topic have been published. By understanding researchers’ concerns, regulators can address the dangers of AI and the benefits of the technology will outweigh the risks.

It may be possible to legislate that AI engineers are employing best practices in cybersecurity and limiting distribution of military technology, but the mere concept of consensus seems ludicrous when the goal is gaining a competitive advantage. It is encouraging that researchers are already discussing the dangers that machine superintelligence might pose, but the concept that AGI or “super AI” could actually develop a set of “basic AI drives,” such as self-preservation, self-improvement and resource acquisition is ominous. In this model, the AGI would be motivated to spread itself across computer networks and evade programmers. The AGI would leverage its cognitive superpowers to escape containment and achieve self-determination. The AGI may then see humans as a threat to its self-preservation and seek to extinguish the human species.

There are many unknowns in the progress of AI and concerns should be met with proper caution, but a fear of the unknown should not stop the advance of responsible AI. Rather than ignoring researchers’ concerns until the technology is mature, as with nuclear weapons, governments should open dialogue with AI researchers to design regulations that balance practicality with security.

Artificial Intelligence – The Bottom Line

These are obvious advantages and disadvantages to artificial intelligence. Each invention or breakthrough will have both, so it is critical that we use the positive sides of these capabilities to create a better world. The imperative for humans is to ensure the “rise of the robots” does not get out of hand.

Machines have become a lot smarter in the last 50 years and AI powered technologies now play a vital role in marketing, finance, data analysis, healthcare, and much more. AI systems surround us in all walks of business and daily activity. They predict what you are typing into a search engine, serve up personalized ads based on your purchase and browsing history and recommend playlists based on your favorite songs. Advanced AI systems can even help doctors diagnose and treat illnesses and the promise of numerous other advancements is only slowed by money and time. By integrating AI solutions into every aspect of the business, organizations can optimize operations, gain a competitive edge, and accelerate growth. The scope for innovation and development in AI is enormous and it will continue to impact the world we live it regardless of our own level of comfort.

Dan Vander Hey

Dan Vander Hey, vice president of advisory services at Spencer Thomas Group. Vander Hey is a nationally recognized HR transformation, strategic sourcing, and human capital technology expert. He’s an author, speaker, and consultant to Fortune 1000 Companies in areas focused on human capital management, best-fit process optimization, and innovative people practices. For more than two decades, he has designed and deployed a wide variety of enterprise systems, including PeopleSoft/Oracle, SAP, ADP, Workday, Ceridian, and UKG. He holds an M.A. in psychology from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in psychology from Biola University. He can be reached at  Dan.Vanderhey@Spencer-Thomas.com.

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