Will artificial intelligence be the end of humanity?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a topic that’s widely discussed nowadays. Many people are getting worried about the huge progress in the domain of AI. The AI industry caused disruption in many different aspects of our lives, and is now threatening our existence according to many experts and AI researchers. But how dangerous can AI be? And how does it affect our humanity?

What are the types of artificial intelligence?

Before we dive into the topic, let’s briefly talk about the three different types of AI.

  • Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): also known as weak AI. This type focuses on a single narrow task, with a limited range of abilities. Every single AI that exists nowadays belongs to this category.
  • Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): this type of AI would represent an artificial human mind. In concept, this AI can think at the same level as a human being and tackle a wide range of problems.
  • Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI): just like AGI, this type of AI is not limited to one problem. But unlike AGI, it outperforms and surpasses the human mind. In theory, an ASI can also have emotions and relationships.

AGI and ASI are where things get scary. However, there is no guarantee that we’ll ever reach these levels of AI. The fear of AI because of the consequences we are seeing today is totally justifiable, but it has been hijacked by the AGI hype. So instead of imagining scenarios where an evil super-intelligent AI takes over the world, we’ll focus on how current ANI is affecting our lives.

The good artificial intelligence

AI has a positive impact on many aspects of our lives. In the field of space exploration for example, AI can help us explore our universe if we make sure that we’re developing safe validated systems. We will be able to send AI robots to very distant planets without worrying about delay in communication and control: the robots will be smart enough to operate themselves even without human intervention. As a matter of fact, AI systems are already contributing to the field of space exploration through image enhancement technologies and machine learning algorithms used to analyse the huge amounts of data received from satellites operating in the deep space.

There are countless other examples where AI can help with the progress of humanity. AI can be of huge benefit as long as we develop it safely and make sure to verify and validate every system we deploy. However, this AI advancement can sometimes be accompanied with a large number of questions about whether or not it should be deployed. This is what I like to call the gray areas of AI.

The gray areas of AI

Sometimes, deploying an AI system somewhere can pose some ethical questions. An example of that is the use of AI-based judges to replace human judges. The AI-judges can make the processing of legal issues fairer and faster. However, we still might not want to use them because of the lack of clarity in the decisions they make. When it comes to AI, especially machine learning systems, we see them as a black box. They give us results, but we have no idea what the reasoning behind a specific result was. How would we be able to appeal to AI-judges if we don’t know the reasons behind their decisions? In addition to that, the idea that these judges are fairer might not be totally accurate: if they are trained on old data that we know contains biases, wouldn’t they assume that this is the way things should be?

Another thing worth mentioning here is the use of AI for mass surveillance and the ethical questions it raises. Some nations are already using advanced AI technology to monitor the activity of its people; and more dangerously, some companies are using it to exploit their customers and achieve higher profits! Even the people who avoid uploading their life online would still be under the surveillance of the owners of such systems. People who avoid being under this surveillance system could be flagged as suspicious because of the missing data about them, and this leads us to a new question: how free are we in choosing our own privacy? And how will we know that all this information about us won’t get in the wrong hands?

The ugly artificial intelligence

Ethical issues are not the only dark side of AI. There are many ways in which even the current ANI can pose a threat to humans. One of these ways is the use of AI in the weapons industry. In their race to obtain more power, the big nations won’t hesitate to use AI for building autonomous and extremely effective weapons. Having autonomous killer weapons that can efficiently eliminate any target they are sent after is scary and dangerous. In the hands of the wrong person, these weapons could easily cause mass casualties. That’s why we should be careful where to use AI systems. If nations use AI to gain more power and dominance, they could be digging their own graves. Some limits should not be crossed if we want to make sure that AI stays within safe boundaries.

AI vs Humans

One area where AI is being heavily developed is virtual assistants. We now have Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s assistant and many others. In theory, these virtual assistants are meant to make our lives easier. In practice, they are slowly taking over many aspects of our lives that once were essential to us as humans. A while ago, Google demonstrated how its assistant can make phone calls to local shops and make reservations for you. This may seem innocent on the surface, but it has dangerous consequences. If this becomes heavily used, we’ll get to a point where we stop knowing whether we’re talking to a human or an AI over the phone.

Having AI replace humans in human interactions, or having it make choices for us (what to watch, what to eat…) may be good news for some people since it means less work for them. But does that mean it’s the right way to go? Or is it just the beginning of humans becoming too lazy to think and make their own choices?

Final message

Artificial intelligence can indeed be the end of humanity. Not only in the sense of wiping our existence, but by depriving us of what makes us human. Let’s stop worrying about super-intelligent AGI taking over our planet. We should focus instead on our position as humans, since AI is getting more and more integrated into our lives. We need to find out what it really means to be human before we turn into machines that act according to goals set by others. Now more than ever, we need to use our free will to choose our future before it’s too late to decide.