Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking all have something very important in common. All three have gone on the record sharing their concerns and fears about AI and Robotics.
While these technologies hold a great deal of promise and will have a real impact on our future, it would behoove us to understand the ramifications and impact they could have on us personally as well as on the future of jobs.
My first concern about AI was recently highlighted in a New York Times piece by John Markoff who wrote that, while AI has great potential for good, it also has great potential for criminals to use it for their own goals.
In the article, Markoff writes:
The thing people don’t get is that cybercrime is becoming automated and it is scaling exponentially,” said Marc Goodman, a law enforcement agency adviser and the author of “Future Crimes.” He added, “This is not about Matthew Broderick hacking from his basement,” a reference to the 1983 movie “War Games.”
The alarm about the malevolent use of advanced artificial intelligence technologies was sounded earlier this year by James R. Clapper, the director of National Intelligence. In his annual review of security, Mr. Clapper underscored the point that while A.I. systems would make some things easier, they would also expand the vulnerabilities of the online world.
The growing sophistication of computer criminals can be seen in the evolution of attack tools like the widely used malicious program known as Blackshades, according to Mr. Goodman. The author of the program, a Swedish national, was convicted last year in the United States.
The system, which was sold widely in the computer underground, functioned as a “criminal franchise in a box,” Mr. Goodman said. It allowed users without technical skills to deploy computer ransomware or perform video or audio eavesdropping with a mouse click.
The next generation of these tools will add machine learning capabilities that have been pioneered by artificial intelligence researchers to improve the quality of machine vision, speech understanding, speech synthesis and natural language understanding. Some computer security researchers believe that digital criminals have been experimenting with the use of A.I. technologies for more than half a decade.
To some degree, we already saw this play out recently when sites like Amazon, Netflix, and others were almost knocked out by bots that used unprotected IoT devices in a Denial of Service attack. This particular attack does not appear to have a criminal link at the moment and it will take time to figure out what the goal was. But as Markoff points out the criminal potential of AI and bots is real and needs to be understood now to try and head off these kinds of attacks in the future. My fear is it is inevitable that criminals embrace AI and use it to their advantage.
The other area of AI and robotics that has me concerned is its role in replacing people and eliminating jobs. I am hearing more and more from people who look at the job market that this fear is very real, not imagined, and could present a serious problem for our world in the future.
In a piece from the UK’s Telegraph from last April, Science Editor Sarah Knapton wrote:
Robots will have taken over most jobs within 30 years leaving humanity facing its ‘biggest challenge ever’ to find meaning in life when work is no longer necessary, according to experts. Professor Moshe Vardi, of Rice University, in the US, claims that many middle-class professionals will be outsourced to machines within the next few decades leaving workers with more leisure time than they have ever experienced. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington, Prof Moshe said the rise of robots could lead to unemployment rates greater than 50 per cent. “We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task,” said Vardi, a professor in computational engineering.
While a life of leisure may be appealing to many, the fact is, work and jobs are important to our overall lifestyle and identity and, even more importantly, they provide our livelihood. Forecasters believe that, by 2050, there will be close to ten billion people on the earth. If Professor Vardi is right and robots could replace as many as 50% of the workers in the market, we have a disastrous problem ahead of us.
It is easy for my generation or even the one behind me to cast this off as a problem for the next generation to deal with. But I don’t think we can wait that long to head off this potential nightmare that could be very destructive to our world. Silicon Valley needs to see this issue as one of the tech world’s biggest moonshot problems, and opportunities, and start to factor in this serious threat to all of the products and services they are creating today.
Those working on AI and robotics need to see this threat as Gates, Musk and Hawking do and build safeguards and strict security into the products they create. Our education system needs to begin seriously looking at this threat and working hard to retool our education system to emphasize STEM and the kinds of skills that will be needed to work in a time when technology and automation could wipe out so many types of jobs our school kids are preparing for today.
While I see the good in AI and Robotics, I also see the bad potential it has as well and its impact on our society at all levels. Silicon Valley, the tech world, and our education leaders need to understand this problem and start now to work on dealing with it since the generations behind us will be negatively impacted beyond what we can even imagine today.