Whether it was a slow news day or just the end of ‘silly season’ in the BBC newsroom this article seemed to get flogged to death last week. It is hardly surprising that the perceived existential threats of AI are the ones that get picked up and the benefits for society get dismissed, but surely, haven’t we been here before? The rise of mechanised mass production of cotton was initially violently opposed to by the Luddites. Then, of course, this was before women could vote and children were often forced to work in factories and sent up chimneys to sweep them; we believe there should be a more positive narrative around the rise of AI.
The notion of intelligent machines is really a flawed concept. It pre-supposes, like the BBC article picture suggests, a malevolent machine taking over. What AI really is a machine that has been programmed to learn, and, through learning it can solve problems. The problems these clever pieces of programming can solve are limitless. AI is already helping researchers in fields as diverse as cancer research and helping visually impaired people live a better quality of life.
What we would like is some balance in the AI debate. Often we’re only exposed to the threats, which speak to the narrative around sinister robots and really, this just misses the point. Artificial Intelligence, outside of science fiction, isn’t about robots with an agenda but really about the confluence of data and science trying to solve problems for business and society. After a while people thought it was better to send children to school rather than down mines or up chimneys — isn’t it about time our software got a bit smarter too?
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