Artificial Intelligence is the technology that is supposed to cause the most disruption to the way in which we live and work. At its most basic level, Artificial Intelligence is getting machines to think, act, and make decisions like human beings. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as
1: a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behaviour in computers
2: the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour
In recent years, there has been much written about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on jobs, and society. At the core, is the great fear that machines, robots, enabled with AI will take away human jobs, making corporates more profitable, but leading to massive unemployment. Luminaries such as Bill Gates have proposed a tax on the use of robots with AI, to mitigate the impact of tax revenue losses by the state. For example, if a worker earned Rs 6 lakh per annum, and paid tax on it; the value of the tax on the robot would be the value paid by the human it replaced. This would ensure that state would continue to have a stream of taxes with which to undertake social welfare. It would also slow down the replacement of humans by machines. Or so goes the theory. Bill Gates is not the only tech billionaire to sound the warning cry on AI and jobs. Elon Musk believes that machines would be better than human beings, and job losses aren’t the worse things that can happen to humanity. Musk believes there should be regulation on the development and implementation of AI. Both Musk and Jeff Bezos sound warning bells on the use of AI in weaponry, or autonomous weapons.
The Big Believers
Everyone is not pessimistic about the rise of Artificial Intelligence. China, for example, is extremely gung-ho about the prospect. In a policy document released last year, China talks about the vision to dominate the field of AI by 2030. They plan to build a 150-billion-dollar industry by this date and are investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence. About 22% of all patents filed worldwide, in Artificial Intelligence, are Chinese. Some of the things they are doing is extremely advanced and with immediate application. Their facial recognition systems, used for surveillance, take less than a second to recognise a face among millions.
In India, the Future of Jobs from 2017 has an almost cheerful outlook on Artificial Intelligence, and what they label Industry 4.0 technologies. It predicts that 9% of jobs in 2022 would be jobs that do not exist today, while 37% jobs will have radically different skill sets. But, where are the skills for this new market? And, what is the aim?
With the tech giants in the United States already dominating the Artificial Intelligence Space, and the Chinese Government seeming to put its considerable weight behind the country’s giant leap forward in the field of Artificial Intelligence, what are India’s priorities? and how does the Government of India ensure that these 9% jobs predicted, have people trained to deliver, and the 37% jobs that need ‘radically changed skill sets’ have people who have reskilled?
The Government of India had set up a task force to look at the broad area of Artificial Intelligence. The report acknowledges India’s lack of expertise in AI technologies, and fears that policy decisions may end up being a function of opinion rather than technical consensus. The report also calls for a thrust in AI in 10 separate domains from manufacturing, to healthcare delivery, from agriculture to defence, from PDS, to education. It also sees the collection, collation, and sharing of data as being a major issue, vis-à-vis privacy. Unlike the Chinese government that can trample on individual rights; the Government of India must work within a democratic framework, where individual rights are protected.
Rise of the Machines
And, in the years to come, this is what is going to define the battle for AI domination. How do countries, and companies that work in countries with citizens’ rights guaranteed, however flawed that guarantee maybe, compete with a nation and companies working in nations, with no safeguards for human rights? Can this battle be won keeping all those rights intact, or to compete do we handover our rights? After all, technology does not know international boundaries. How do you plan for tanks or missiles that are controlled by AI? For now, when we look at AI or robots enabled with AI, we see those cute things that make us smile. It doesn’t take much to convert a robot garbage picker into a robot that lays mines. The United Nations is worried enough about the potential of autonomous AI weaponry to start a conversation about it as well as call to discuss governance of AI and robotics.
Right now, it is the proverbial wild west. The question is whether AI should develop further before regulations kick in, or should regulations kick in before it is too late. The window of time is very small – and it might be better to have a broad agreement in place before Skynet takes over.
Harini Calamur works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences.