The role AI plays in your life is a matter of choice (but only to a certain extent).
It doesn’t seem too long ago that artificial intelligence (AI) was mostly the stuff of science fiction. Today it seems to be everywhere: in our home appliances, in our cars, in the workplace, even on our wrists.
To some extent, our use of AI is still a matter of personal choice. But because AI is becoming increasing ubiquitous, we need to make a lot of conscious decisions.
Regardless of the choices we make, we need to stay educated on the evolution of this science. A thoughtful primer on this is Rhonda Scharf’s book Alexa Is Stealing Your Job: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Future.
My conversation with Rhonda provides some good tips what we should know and what we can do.
Rodger Dean Duncan: AI today is similar to the introduction of the desktop computer three decades ago. Many people resisted computers and got left behind. What’s the best argument for AI today?
Rhonda Scharf: Artificial Intelligence is not going away. When the desktop computer was introduced in the 1980s, many people felt it was a fad, and it would disappear over time.
Hazel, a woman I worked with, was willing to bet her career on it. When the company I worked at insisted we transition to desktops or leave the company, she rolled the dice and called their bluff. She lost. She believed there was no way a company could exist without tried-and-true manual systems and that computers were a big waste of time and money.
We are in precisely that situation again.
If you can write instructions for a task so that someone can follow them, then AI can replicate those actions.
Duncan: So what’s the implication?
Scharf: Not only can your company exist without you performing these tasks, it will also (eventually) be more profitable (with fewer errors) because of it.
By refusing to learn about AI—and by refusing to adapt and be flexible—you’re rolling the dice that AI will not take over the tasks you currently do. Call yourself Hazel, and you’ll soon be out of a job.
AI is alive and well in the workplace, only many people don’t realize it. Being naïve and refusing to acknowledge what is right under your nose is a recipe for disaster. Take a look around at how much AI we already have in our lives. Artificial Intelligence is not going away. Adapt or become unemployed.
Duncan: Most people have grown comfortable with the idea of letting machines replace humans to do monotonous, heavy, repetitive, and dangerous tasks. But the notion of having AI make decisions and predictions about the future often evokes skepticism or even fear. What do you say to people who have such concerns?
Scharf: Movies like “2001: A Space Odyessy” and its AI character, HAL 9000, have planted the seeds of fear and mass destruction in our minds. We are afraid of what computers can do on their own. AI learns from its experiences and will make decisions on its own—calculated, logical, and statistically accurate decisions.
What AI doesn’t do is make emotional decisions. Take AI stock trading as an example. Without any emotions involved, the robo-advisers can determine the optimal price to buy and sell specific stocks. They don’t get emotionally tied into “one more day” and potentially lose profits. AI can evaluate millions of data points and make conclusions instantly that neither humans nor computers can do. As quickly as the market changes, AI changes its course of action based on the data.
I’m not about to have AI make life-or-death decisions for me. The same way we now trust machines to handle monotonous, heavy, repetitive, and dangerous tasks, I will rely on AI to do some heavy thinking and bring me logical conclusions, quickly and efficiently.
If you don’t want to be left behind, you’d better get educated on AI.
Duncan: What do you tell people who have privacy concerns about AI applications?
Scharf: The privacy concerns are real, but you gave up your privacy when you got your first mobile phone (for some this was as early as 1996). It could track you. Technically, that impacted your privacy 20-plus years ago.
Once the Blackberry was introduced in 1999, followed by the iPhone eight years later, your privacy became severely compromised. Your phone knows where you are, and it knows what you’re doing. Even if you keep your Bluetooth off, your device and its apps know a lot about you.
If you wear any technology whatsoever, you are giving up your privacy. According to a 2014 study by GlobalWebIndex, 71% of people ages 16 to 24 want “wearable tech.” That was over five years ago before we had much wearable technology.
In the same study, 64 percent of internet users aged 16 to 64 said they’ve either already used a piece of wearable tech or were keen to do so in the future.
Fast forward five years, and half of Americans use fitness trackers daily. More than 96% of Americans have a cell phone of some kind.
People may say they have privacy concerns, but when it comes to using technology that improves our lives, we forgo privacy for convenience.
Next: Artificial Intelligence, Privacy, And The Choices You Must Make