There is a term that if you’re not already familiar with, you might want to spend a few moments learning and educating yourselves about it. It’s ‘Artificial Intelligence,’ or A.I. And while it’s already playing a big role in our daily lives, it’s going to get a lot bigger. And like an actor, sometimes it’s going to be the good guy, other times, not so much.
A.I. is a technology that we’ve all experienced but, perhaps did not know exactly how, when or where. A quick lesson: Think about those advertisements that pop up on Facebook or song selections that music services suggest for you or even products that suddenly appear on your computer screens after an on-line purchase. Those are simple and common examples of artificial intelligence.
Companies use algorithms to make these suggestions based upon previous buys, opinions or behavior. An algorithm is a ‘specific and logical procedure to be followed in order to achieve a specific result.’ They’re logical patterns used in influencing decisions. And more and more companies, organizations and interest groups---good and bad---are employing them.
A.I. is already found around the house or in our everyday world, said Metropolitan State University of Denver computer science professor, Dr. Steven Beaty. “There’s Alexis and Google,” along with SIRI, all voice-controlled personal assistants “that we use every day,” he said. There are also appliances, self-driving vehicles, mapping apps and more that use A.I. The list is growing exponentially and it will continue to grow well into the future. It’s here and not going away.
In Colorado, an Anheuser-Busch beer truck, carrying 50,000 cans of beer, made the 133-mile trip from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs without a driver in 2016. It marked the first time in history that a self-driving vehicle had shipped commercial cargo. But driverless technology is just scratching the surface. All major car makers are investing billions in this new science. It’s estimated that by 2040, as many as 90 percent of all cars on U.S. roads will be employing this technology.
Industry is making a huge bet on A.I. In fact, it’s doubling down on its investment. In scores of workplaces, it’s using robots to do the jobs that humans once performed. They’re quicker and more efficient than humans. Companies---from the auto industry to low-paying, repetitious jobs---have determined that they’re cheaper, don’t require weighing an employee’s personal considerations and don’t involve unions. Robots; you plug them in and walk away.
And while robots may cut or even eliminate some workplace personnel, they may also add to workforces. Robots, when they breakdown or malfunction, will always need a human to diagnose or repair them so they can get back to work.
But A.I. has already made huge and often positive inroads in medicine, a role is only going to grow. Today, A.I. can track and investigate infections in hospitals and patients to ensure maximum sanitary levels are maintained. Robots are common in many surgical procedures where doctors, using their hands to control them, perform the most delicate maneuvers.
In the future, A.I. will be used in identifying tumors or symptoms. Also, by collecting huge amounts of health data from patients will be able to accurately track health issues, develop new drugs or new ways to better use older drugs.
Beaty described a project he has his students working on as one that could soon be applied in healthcare. “One of my senior project teams is working on an app where you take a picture of a mole and (doctors) can tell if It’s something that you should have checked.” A.I. can also be applied to X-rays, MRI’s, “these sorts of things.”
There is little doubt that A.I. has become an agent of not just the future but of now. But no one, said Beaty, should simply acknowledge it with ‘a nod-and-a-wink.’ There will be, he said, “malevolent use of A.I.,” including the militarization of it in guns and other weaponry. Despite its amazing properties, A.I., should not be thought of with unconscious bias. ‘Mathwashing,’ is the tendency to bestow objectivity to technology, that is, simply giving it a pass. But if we remain complacent about this technology, we may be doing it at our own peril.
And there is no more glaring example of this than two recent fatal incidents involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. An investigation by the Seattle Times focused on a single faulty sensor. It tells the pilots the aircraft’s nose angle. When the pilots of each of these aircraft---who followed all proper protocols---tried to correct the malfunction and failed, the aircraft stalled. The computer overrode their efforts. Boeing has acknowledged its role in both crashes.
There will be drawbacks and downsides to A.I., some innocuous, others significant; some instantly recognizable, others stealthy. Pundits and politicians are already warning us that the bots and trolls, including many originating in Russia, that impacted the country’s 2016 election may be ramping up again for 2020’s. There, too, A.I. will play its wildly duplicitous role. On one hand, invisibly and convincingly swaying public opinion while simultaneously alerting us to dangerous pattern recognition. “People from the other side will look for our weaknesses,” said Beaty. “We need to make sure that we pay attention.”