Eric Schmidt vs Elon Musk: Why AI is Here to Stay

By Mr. Soumik Sarkar

 ““By far the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.” –Eliezer Yudkowsky

A few years back, American business magnate, investor and engineer Elon Musk  — of Tesla and  SpaceX fame — had fired back at Mark Zuckerberg over his grasp of the future of AI, claiming that the Facebook CEO’s “understanding of the subject is limited.” Tech billionaire and the controversial figure Musk, also tweeted, “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.” However, when the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was asked about Elon Musk’s warnings about AI, his sharp & succinct answer was: “I think Elon is exactly wrong.”

This is all old news now. It is not only Elon Musk, who believes that Artificial Intelligence (AI), if left unregulated and uncontrolled, has the potential to become an “immortal dictator” and there will be no escape for humans. Privacy and Ethical concerns in Artificial Intelligence are, and will continue to be, the hot topics. But at the same time, the world is also full of Eric Schmidts, who continue to emphasize that this technology is fundamentally good for humanity and that computers can never take the place of human supercomputers. But why should You, be interested in the debate?

Because, AI is pushing the boundaries of human imagination and has transformed a futuristic concept into a powerful force. AI— basically a combination of both software and hardware technologies that focus on the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems by enabling the intelligent machines to think, learn and react like human beings. Today, AI powers many gadgets, like smartphones, smart thermostats and voice-activated virtual assistants that bring modern conveniences to daily life. Increasingly, AI is also being used to tackle critical social challenges. However, there are two main concerns surrounding the exponential growth of AI: with regards to job loss and with regards to privacy, where AI presents serious complications.

Privacy, where the bullfighting is going on, is an issue harder to address. The increasing complication of AI implies that the privacy of people will be harder to protect. By entrusting AIs with certain aspects of your life, aren’t you leaving open the possibility that hackers and other ill-intentioned people can compromise (your) systems through a backdoor? Needless to say, this could be disastrous (and has been, in the case of personal information leaks in the past).

Schmidt argues that in the imagined world, even if the computers get so smart that they want to destroy us at some point, “don’t you think the humans would notice this, and start turning off the computers?”  The former CEO of Google believes, AI will make “every human” smarter, not only at the individual level, but also at the level of humanity, for the technology helps people to live better and longer and in less pain, it makes every citizen smarter, and economic and social systems more fluid.

The fact that one cannot deny is that, every single technological innovation that took the world by storm (from automobile and airplane to computer and smartphones) has been first heralded as the harbinger of a new dawn or the root cause of destruction of humanity. According to an estimate by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Robotics married to AI can increase productivity by 30% in many industries and reduce manufacturing labor cost by nearly 33% within a decade.  We are witnessing a growing trend in Finance industry towards Robo Advisors, which can provide personalized recommendations (using a variety of algorithms) that best meet clients’ saving and investment habits. In a world with self-driving cars, there would be no need for you to drive anymore, which in itself would lead to massively improved efficiency. Probably you drive around an hour a day to and from work; with self-driving cars, you could use that hour for reading, relaxing, sleeping or working, increasing your personal efficiency.

The benefit of an automated, technically advanced world is, in theory, the freedom to do more of what we want and to live our most unrestrained lives while maintaining full safety. The more AI in your day, the more free time you’ll have and the better you’ll be able to develop yourself. There are of course, ethical concerns, privacy issues, and the productivity vs. jobloss debate will continue.  But despite the warnings or bad possibilities, let’s not stop dreaming. Opposition to automation, robotics and AI in 2020 is about as futile as it would have been in the 20th century to oppose electricity. You need to be prepared and prepare the agents of change. Our responsibility should be to make sure everyone is informed and ready for the upcoming changes, that can design a better future for us.

About the Author:

Soumik Sarkar is Assistant Professor of Economics, School of Economics and Commerce, Adamas University. He has also worked as Economist in Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Kolkata

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