A very long time ago, in 1997, there was an excellent Disney TV show called Smart Guy. In the show a genius little boy, 10 year old T.J. Henderson, transfers from 4th grade up to high school. In one of the episodes T.J. faces off against an undefeated computer in a chess tournament for the honor of his school. Being a kid at the time, it inspired me to see a kid prevail over a computer.
That episode captured much of what our society views as true happiness. It captured the social connections we create with one another being necessary, our own sense of importance within a community, and a sense of purpose in a time of change. “Change”, in this case, being a world approaching artificial intelligence (i.e. AI) and automation. Today we see the rate of this “change” is accelerating.
It is hard to imagine a future world where humans are not the smartest beings. The question for our society becomes whether the pros of artificial intelligence outweigh the cons. Even though we cannot predict the true future extents of AI we do know the world is changing at a rapid pace, so thinking critically about these changes is crucial if we want to continue thriving in the future.
It is important to note that this post is not advocating against furthering AI. The improvement of AI is coming whether we like it or not. The purpose is to prepare us for the inevitable possibilities AI will bring us.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that creates intelligent machines able to complete a task, problem solve, learn from experience, adjust to new inputs, and/or perform human-like tasks.
There are three primary types of AI:
- Artificial Narrow Intelligence: This type of AI exists in our world today. Narrow AI is predetermined/programmed to perform a single task — whether it’s checking the weather, playing chess, or analyzing raw data to write journalistic reports. Narrow AI is not conscious, sentient, or driven by emotion. Siri is a solid example. The automation of jobs that we see replacing people is done by this AI.
- Artificial General Intelligence: This type of AI does not exist yet. It would be able to perform any intellectual task that a human can. AGI is expected to be able to reason, make judgments under uncertainty, plan, learn, and integrate prior knowledge into decision-making. These machines would have such traits as imagination and autonomy.
- Artificial Super Intelligence: This type of AI also has not arrived and may never arrive. However, researchers believe that when [the previously stated] AGI is developed, these same machines may eventually be able to enter never-ending self-improvement loops that would lead them to a greater cognitive performance than humans in all domains of interest – possibly becoming too powerful to stop.
That said, there will be a spectrum usage of AI. There are computers, robots, genetic engineering, and then a merging of individual human brain/computer interfaces (i.e. a blend of humans with AI capabilities added to them similar to a performance enhancement drug).
The prediction of when science will achieve these various levels of artificial intelligence varies. In their last few active months of the Obama Administration warned us that 60% of our jobs will be automated by 2030. A bipartisan-style warning telling us that this isn’t a political matter but a human matter. Sam Harris, the popular philosopher, neuroscientist and public intellectual fearfully said on the matter, “We are in the process of building some sort of god.” [A statement analogous to the biblical Tower of Babel story, but I digress.]
To display the positive side – some of the benefits to AI and automation include:
- It will aide in the daily productivity of businesses.
- It will add new, ancillary jobs that we’ve never had before.
- It will be able to spot and detect people’s diseases and health defects better than any human doctor can detect.
- It will drive down consumer costs, making many of our products and services more affordable than ever before.
These are beautiful benefits that people have to agree are good. Since we have problems that we need solved – e.x. Alzheimer’s, cancer, climate science, etc. – we WILL continue to innovate our technological intelligence to try to fix them. However, every beneficial thing on this earth has a dark side. Just as the advantageous social media has a dark side….the dark side of AI and automation is arguably worse.
Here are five points that we need to begin to take serious for the near future:
1) How will AI affect the workplace? AI automation will affect jobs. We’ve all seen employees replaced at our local grocery and retail stores by machines. For another example, a large number of truck and taxi drivers are predicted to go away within the next 10 years. That’s a ton of middle-aged adults left without a job and likely do not have the scholastic means to find another profession they’re qualified to perform. Companies like Amazon, Uber and Google have already stated how they want to increasingly automate their jobs that are currently held by people. Subsequently, millions of jobs are likely to be displaced.
Why are companies seeking workforce automation? The primary goal of any company is to increase revenue. With AI automation usage a company saves money by (1) not having to pay their machines a salary and (2) not having to pay healthcare for human employees. And, to add, these machines are not limited to 8 hours work days and vacation time – they can work 24/7. This drastically decreases company costs thus increasing revenue.
2) How will AI affect unemployment? As jobs are displaced due to AI automation, there will be new jobs created [as previously stated]. Unfortunately it is hard to predict how many new jobs and what they will look like. Additionally, today we already have many jobs waiting to be occupied. What we do know about these jobs is that many of them require a high level intelligence. Not everyone has the cognitive gifting to be a lawyer, dentist, or computer scientist. This trend will lead to an even wider income gap in our country and an increased rate of poverty. With the way our youth educational system is currently setup children are not properly equipped for the new sector(s) of jobs that will be in demand.
3) How will this affect the family? With research we are beginning to learn the psychological and sociological effects of unemployment. People are meant to work. We are hardwired for it. When people lose their jobs they feel they lose their purpose. Studies have shown that men and women tend to respond differently to job loss. In men, there is increased escapism. We have seen the rates of depression, opioid overdose, fatherless households, and suicide increase in some correlation to the increase in male unemployment. Conversely, women show no statistically significant emotional effects correlated with their unemployment status.
This effect is coupled with society still grappling/learning the effects of women increasingly entering the workforce. Before the introduction of women into the workforce men only competed with other men – now they compete with both men and women. We also know that today women are generally better educated than men; so these men are now at the increasing disadvantage of both women and AI machines in the workplace. That is not a reason to oppose women [or AI] being in the workforce but rather an objective analysis of the unprecedented, complex outcome of it. Where men are walking in their purpose of design, the home and society at large flourish. With AI, men will take a more direct blow. Because, you see, people don’t need money, they need function. Where that doesn’t happen, there is a backslide of society.
4) How will this affect the cohesion of our society? The historical cause and effect from the rise in poverty is an increase in crime. The empirical evidence is indisputable that inequality drives crime. Sometimes we can see an increase in uprisings from the lower income class when there is massive inequality. During the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s England and America saw numerous revolts from the labor force due to the sudden replacement of jobs by machines.
We have to be careful here because if the amount of inequality ramps up enough then our social system will destabilize. The likelihood of an uprising from the lower class increases when they believe their economic opportunity (and the opportunity of their offspring) is fixed/rigged to stay below a reasonable level. The economic game being fair is the American Dream. AI automation can bring down cohesion within society as it takes away the opportunity of masses of people and as it increases poverty.
The estimated job replacement of AI automation is at a much higher scale than that of the Industrial Revolution. If we do not expect the possibility of some form of revolts, then we’re being quite optimistic. We also need to look at the impact of AI on our individual, everyday lives. Will automation cause a decrease in our patience, empathy, care, and investment in others? If a student can supplement their brain with some level of AI will their cognitive advantage over regular students be taken into account or not? Think about how smarter we are right now with the ability to look up anything on our iPhone. Imagine having that ability installed in your head.
5) Miscellaneous: How will this affect international relations? How will it change social media? How will AI weaponry change how we view the morality of war? How will AI sex robots change the world?
Throughout history the rate of growth of society has been an intuitive, linear slope. With linear progression humankind is better able to adjust. The past half century has shown that technological growth is an exponential progression. So as we get closer to AI capabilities, we won’t experience 100 years of growth within a century, it will actually be more like thousands of years of progress within a single century. This is extremely difficult for humankind to adjust to.
Historically, the Church has had a tendency to be late on discussions of technological advancements. We are typically late to the game and reactive. It seems to be the contrary this time around. Recently (April 11, 2019) over 60 well-known evangelical leader created and signed a new statement centered on the principles of AI.
“We recognize that AI will allow us to achieve unprecedented possibilities, while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care,” stated the authors of the new statement unveiled to The White House.
This is a key step in approaching the global discussion of AI. It marks a claim for a seat at the AI ethics table for Christians as world governments try to prepare for the future change rapidly occurring in our world. Still, it isn’t solely up to our evangelical leaders; the rest of us also have a duty to uphold. Our awareness on the topic is paramount. AI tools and their limitless potential can be at odds with a belief in human dignity and morality based on the image of God.
There are warning signs around us if we simply open our ears to hear. The economic growth of our society is not what sustains us. The world, the family, and the individual were each designed with a particular hierarchical purpose in mind. What we will need to focus on is the preservation of our communities as one of our greatest challenges today and in the near future.