AI and the future of humanity: Opportunity and anxiety
At the same time, AI could disrupt the human workforce greatly, noted Kaku, who warned that a smarter future comes with tradeoffs.
AI, he said, does “pose an existential threat.” Much of that threat, Kaku said, involves the long-term impact on the human workforce. According to some estimates, about 30% of the activities in 60% of all occupations could be automated.
The displacement is already taking place, noted Jeff Hesse, a PwC principal. According to Hesse, workers will need to adapt and develop new skills, even over the next five years. Data analytics and robotics will be areas of growth in the workforce.
Kaku forecasted the future of artificial intelligence as superimposed on industries like healthcare. AI could enable less invasive procedures. Patients, he predicted, will be able to swallow a pill capsule outfitted with a camera to provide imagery of their intestines, obviating the need for a colonoscopy. “It gives new meaning to the phrase Intel inside,” he quipped.
AI might offer the possibility for understanding and slowing the aging process, Kaku postulated. Bone, skin, cartilage and organs can be grown. “Because of AI, because of computer technology, we may be able to solve the problem of the aging process,” he said.
At the same time, Kaku intimated, if mishandled, AI could raise the specter of human reengineering. Bionic limbs and artificially grown hearts and livers are now a reality, and healthcare professionals should be on guard against organizations using AI to select for certain healthy attributes and discriminate against those without them.
Man as machine, man plus machine
Kaku also noted that AI will change human memory and have a different kind of effect on posterity. AI is already used to create holograms that digitize a human entity and capture its memories, voice and image. Those holograms can make memories more permanent, even after the individual is long gone.
Today, however, a hologram imbued with flawless AI is still a ways off. As the New Yorker noted earlier this year, a hologram of Eva Schloss, a friend of Anne Frank and a Holocaust survivor, was prone to short-circuiting when asked questions such as, “Can you tell me about your brother?” The artificial being became confused and offered up random answers rather than pertinent responses. Microsoft Tay, a chatbot released in 2016, was promptly retired after it learned and replicated hate speech from online chat rooms.
These examples highlight the immaturity of AI, despite significant advances in recent years. They also support the argument that proponents make about how AI will augment human work, processing and decision making.
“This will be an era of man plus machine, not an era of man vs. machine,” said Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, during her keynote. “Man and machine always get a better answer than man alone or machine alone,” she said.