Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Society
August 21, 2018
Depending on your point of view, artificial intelligence (AI) can either be the boogeyman or the potential savior of humankind. Those views, like most extreme viewpoints, raise arguments worth considering but seldom do extremists present the full picture. Most of the darker pictures painted of AI involve superintelligence and autonomous weapons. Those are valid concerns; however, in this article, I want to focus on the brighter side of AI. Despite Hollywood’s ominous story lines about AI, people are starting to warm to AI’s potential. Last year, a survey conducted by Strategy Analytics concluded, “41% of respondents believe that artificial intelligence will enrich their lives, with consumers in China and India being most likely to embrace the technology.” Brad Smith (@BradSmi), Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, and Harry Shum (@harryshum), Executive Vice President of Microsoft AI and Research Group, believe twenty years from now AI will be pervasive in our lives. “At Microsoft,” they explain, “we imagine that artificial intelligence will help us do more with one of our most precious commodities: time. By 2038, personal digital assistants will be trained to anticipate our needs, help manage our schedule, prepare us for meetings, assist as we plan our social lives, reply to and route communications, and drive cars.” Most pundits believe AI will do far more than drive us around and manage our lives.
AI and society
Business consultant Ronald van Loon asserts, “The role of Artificial Intelligence devices in augmenting humans and in achieving tasks that were previously considered unachievable is just amazing. With the world progressing towards an age of unlimited innovations and unhindered progress, we can expect that AI will have a greater role in actually serving us for the better.” Below are a number of ways pundits expect AI to benefit society.
In the workplace. The news is not all good about AI in the workplace. Many futurists fear AI will make humans redundant — dramatically increasing unemployment and causing social unrest. Many other futurists believe AI and other Information Age technologies will create more jobs than it eliminates. Regardless of which viewpoint is correct, there will be job displacements requiring retraining and reskilling. Beyond AI’s impact on employment, Peter Daisyme (@peterdaisyme), co-founder of Hostt, asserts AI will make the workplace safer. He explains, “Many jobs, despite a focus on health and safety, still involve a considerable amount of risk. … Risks involved for employees of U.S. factories can be alleviated by the use of the Industrial Internet of Things and predictive maintenance. … The role of AI and cognitive computing [involves] improving the link between maintenance and workplace safety. … These technologies address issues before they put factory workers at risk. In addition, AI can take on more roles within the factory, eliminating the need for humans to work in potentially dangerous areas.” AI can also help relieve workers from having to perform tedious jobs freeing them to perform more interesting and satisfying work.
In our cities. There is a growing smart cities movement aimed at helping urban residents use scarce resources more wisely. As the urbanization trend continues to see cities gain population, smart technologies will help make urban life more pleasurable and affordable. AI systems will help manage traffic, improve public transportation, monitor water systems and electrical grids, and assist law enforcement. Daisyme notes, “Smart cities, powered by AI platforms, are changing the very fiber of urban areas. AI technology is addressing old social ills in new ways.”
In our environment. Despite the doubters, scientists have used big data and sophisticated models to demonstrate how our environment is changing. Daisyme writes, “Up to now, there has been no way to fully understand the impact that human beings and economic development have on the environment, including their adverse effects on plant and animal life. But that may soon change, as AI provides the necessary tools to collect, sift, and organize extraordinary amounts of data. … AI can help us prevent further damage and better understand how to address development needs while focusing on sustainability.”
In healthcare. Ilan Moscovitz (@IlanMoscovitz) asserts, “Healthcare is ground zero for AI. In fact, AI has been quietly helping doctors treat diseases for almost its entire existence.” AI is being used to assist medical professionals in their diagnoses and to help develop effective drugs more quickly. AI can help monitor a patient’s condition 24/7 regardless of their location. It can help predict which patients are likely to make repeat visits to emergency rooms and can even predict when patients are likely to die.
In Agriculture. Artificial intelligence is only one of the Information Age technologies that will help us feed a growing world population using fewer resources. Precision farming and other modern techniques rely heavily on these technologies.
In Education. Artificial intelligence can be used to personalize education so students can advance at the pace best-suited to their skills, temperament, and mental abilities. These technologies won’t eliminate the need for talented teachers; rather, they will help free teachers to deal with special needs.
In Transportation. Driverless cars are being pursued by every major automobile manufacturer. These vehicles are predicted to dramatically reduce deaths due to accident by reducing human errors and constantly monitoring the physical condition of the car. In addition, autonomous trucks are being tested in platoons in North Carolina and autonomous ships are predicted to one day fill sea lanes delivering supplies.
Those are only a few of the ways cognitive technologies are predicted to affect our lives in the years ahead.
Smith and Shum conclude, “The companies and countries that will fare best in the AI era will be those that embrace these changes rapidly and effectively. This is because new jobs and economic growth will come to those that embrace the technology, not those that resist or delay adopting it.” They also conclude AI and other Information Age technologies will make us more rather than less human. They explain, “Skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions. If AI is to reach its potential in serving humans, then every engineer will need to learn more about the liberal arts and every liberal arts major will need to learn more about engineering.” In many ways, AI is already in our lives without our being aware of it. Moscovitz predicts, “As AI grows increasingly ubiquitous, it’ll become increasingly invisible.” In other words, our lives will get better and we may not understand why.
 Christopher Dodge, “41% of Consumers Believe Artificial Intelligence Will Make Their Lives Better,” Strategy Analytics, 31 August 2017.
 Brad Smith and Harry Shum, “The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its role in society,” Official Microsoft Blog, 17 January 2018.
 Ronald van Loon, “The Future is All about AI Devices That Can Actually Serve Us,” Datafloq, 10 January 2018.
 Peter Daisyme, “5 Unexpected Ways AI can Save the World,” Due Blog, 20 January 2018.
 Ilan Moscovitz, “For Artificial Intelligence, the Future Is Now,” The Motley Fool, 31 December 2017.