There is a substantial level of debate regarding whether AI is a blessing or a curse for humanity.  While Elon Musk calls AI the “biggest existential threat” of our times and the fact that there is no regulatory body overseeing its development is “insane”, many renowned authors like John Hagel, former co-chairman for Deloitte opine that AI will help to enhance “our uniquely human capabilities and restore our humanity”.

Throughout history, technology has surpassed human capabilities time and again. Since the Industrial Revolution people had been outsourcing the labor work to machines- leaving the “thinking” work to humans. Consider the influence of inventions such as steam engines or the telephone on the lives and livelihoods of people. But this time it’s different; today’s technologies like AI/ML, Blockchain, or IoT in fact have the potential to virtually replace people’s jobs across domains.

The notion of Artificial Intelligence and the thought “can machine think?” crossed minds back in the 20th century. Fictional characters like the humanoid robot, Gort, or the ‘heartless’ Tin Man gave us glimpses of the capabilities of machines to think and act or even outsmart humans. Alan Turing, the British logician and computer pioneer marked the beginning of AI. He explored the mathematical possibilities and gave the logical framework of his 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he discussed how to build intelligent machines and how to test their intelligence. Since then, AI has progressed from simply defeating humans in games like chess and board games using essentially memory and computing power, to becoming a part of our daily life, using more human-like skills such as speech recognition, image recognition, spatial judgment, conversational ability and so on.  Many of these capabilities are already built into, the now commercially available and ubiquitous, digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. From problem-solving logic to understanding and influencing human emotions and decisions, AI has come a long way. This journey has been accelerated by forming a synergetic relationship with big data, in order to gain better clarity and a deeper understanding of the factors that influence our decisions.

According to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the rise in artificial intelligence will help society to be able to do more with less. “AI is just the latest in technologies that allow us to produce a lot more goods and services with less labor. And overwhelmingly, over the last several hundred years, that has been great for society,” says Gates.

Redefining work to restore humanity

Despite recent claims that AI would soon surpass human intelligence, this idea can be disproved by analyzing what AI cannot do in comparison to natural intelligence. Our existing work process, as we know is systematic and standardized with a data-driven approach, which artificial intelligence can clearly perform more efficiently than humans. Having the technology to take up the rigorous and mundane tasks, people have a significant opportunity to rethink the fundamentals of “value creation” “meaningful work” and “work-life culture” across industries. Therefore, the potential of AI to perform automated tasks allows us to explore unique human characteristics like imagination, creativity, curiosity, morality, ethics, and emotional, cultural, and social intelligence. However, the fact that AI is growing at an electric speed also creates a lot of challenges for us to acclimatize and be ready for future transformation.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai made a bold statement on AI, saying “It’s the most important thing humanity is working on. It is more profound than, I dunno, electricity or fire”.
Perhaps that statement isn’t as far-fetched as one might believe, given how AI is already assisting humans in combating climate change, exploring space, and developing cancer treatments, among other things.

Collaborative Intelligence of Humans and AI

The key question “Can AI get dangerously out of control, and can it turn against humans?” is a difficult one to answer- yet.

We first have to discover whether AI can develop emotions, judgment, imagination, and all of those intangible abilities that make us human; only then can we decide whether we have created the best thing for the human race or our own worst enemy. Might it be too late by then- who knows?
But having a single global governing body/regulatory authority that oversees how AI is developing, and how that might impact humans using a common framework is not a bad idea. In addition, some other questions of crucial importance are how transparent is the AI algorithm? What can we do about the AI biases? Because AI algorithms are completely data-driven, it may simply replicate the existing biases in data representation. For instance, when Amazon was developing an AI-based recruiting system, they discovered a flaw: the AI was favoring male candidates over female candidates based on data from their previous hiring procedures. While humans are striving to eliminate biases from society, AI appears to automate the process without even realizing it.

Elon Musk stated that “If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it…It’s just like, if we’re building a road and an anthill just happens to be in the way, we don’t hate ants, we’re just building a road.”

The future might probably see the collaboration of AI and humans, closely working and improving each other’s capabilities. Human talents and the technical prowess of AI together can bring greater developments than the world has seen before. Instead of eliminating our jobs, AI can create the opportunity to make our work more humane. Many existing work processes will be disrupted, updated, and transformed. Organizations can be more concerned about their people, resulting in a more compassionate work environment. While AI can take care of desk-bound manual jobs, there are several fields such as social work, psychotherapy, or critical customer service that require natural human traits of empathy and emotions are likely to find profound importance for the betterment of society and the world.