AI: A Harbinger of Convenience or A Threat to Privacy?

Major Blog Series: Part I

Artificial Intelligence is a part of the technology that deals with imitating the human brain, the way it thinks and reacts to certain things or activities. In a world where humans depend on technology for so many tasks, an era where Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant are our all-time companions, AI seems to have an exhilarating impact on our everyday lives. From our favorite auto-correct to personalized recommendations based on our previous searches, everything has been made possible using AI. However, at the same time, it is worth discovering what makes AI so smart. As it happens, it is the same technique that is used by a human child to learn things while he grows up — observing certain patterns and extrapolating them to understand the reasons behind their existence. But, how does a machine “observe”? Well, we are under constant surveillance for most of our online, and sometimes even offline, activities. Right from our personal conversations to our preferred shopping destinations, our devices are keeping track of everything. Thus, it’s worth understanding the two contrasting sides of AI.

Image Source: Geekboots

It was in 1947 when Alan Turing said, “we want a machine that can learn from experiences”. His paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950), laid the foundation of thinking artificially. Ever since, humans have started thinking in those directions, trying to answer Turing’s questions, and constantly working towards making machines smarter that can learn from a given data set and make their own decisions. In 1956, the term “Artificial Intelligence” was officially coined by John McCarthy. Eventually, the interest in AI surged in different parts of the world, with many people engaging in AI research, having a strong belief that thinking power in machines has a rich potential to transform the world; indeed! As a result, Japan built the first AI-based humanoid robot, WABOT-1, in 1973. The following period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s is often referred to as the “winters of AI” as people started losing interest in this field due to the lack of funding and inability to create sufficiently intelligent machines despite repeated efforts. As time passed and AI regained public interest as well as attention, soon in 1997, for the first time, a computer, IBM’s Deep Blue, defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, about which this blog also talks about. Thus, eventually, the advent of the 21st century brought many feathers to the hat of AI. The global tech giants have already started using Artificial Intelligence for various purposes. Rather, I won’t be wrong in saying that it would be difficult to imagine today’s technology without AI.

What makes AI a harbinger of convenience?
Our everyday experiences include a lot of direct interaction with AI. Starting from the minute we wake up, we have our personal assistants to guide us through our routine tasks, weather updates, and scheduled meetings simply using voice commands. To add to it, nowadays, the assistants have been trained to recognize multiple languages and respond as asked. Besides voice recognition, we also have our well-trained autocorrect mechanism, which learns from our typing history and suggests as well as corrects our wrongly spelled words. Sending a mail? Gmail is here to help with suggestions based on how we start our mail. Little things, creating big differences in terms of making our lives easier.

If it felt overwhelming, hold on to your thoughts, as there’s a big use case yet to be discussed. AI in Airplanes! Modern airplanes have a dedicated autopilot mode wherein the complete control of the flight is in the hands of a computer, without any human pilot guidance. This is similar to an imaginary humanoid in the cockpit, who shall be held accountable for its decisions during the flight.

How is AI a threat to privacy?
With so many benefits, AI seems to be such a perfect fit for today’s world, helping us at every step, easing out our everyday tasks. BUT, multiple reasons make AI the victim of hate.

Talking freely over internet platforms, and getting recommendations based on our interests is definitely satisfying, but knowing that a third person is monitoring our internet activities all the time, might not please us. There have been cases, when, in the name of AI, companies hire people who are doing the job of reading and suggesting us things. These people remain hidden behind the AI curtain and are seldom allowed to reveal their job profiles. An appropriate example of this is the Turkish Chess Playerwhich was portrayed to play chess automatically. However, when Charles Babbage played the Turk in 1819, he lost twice. He suspected the Turk to be a hoax, and that it was being controlled by a human. And this is exactly what it was! The 18th century's playing robot was actually a human.

Secondly, the act of data breaching. A huge amount of data is being generated and collected on an everyday basis. Google Photos identifies the face of a person among all photos and groups those. Who knows if these photos are NOT being used outside your account? There have been cases where the proprietary data of users is being sold for training machine learning models without a genuine agreement. Trying to recall the last time when we clicked on “agreed” without bothering to read those ant-sized letters written in a bad format? Here’s how some people put it:

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“The rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.” — Stephen Hawking

Talking of humanity with Artificial Intelligence might seem absurd right now, but it isn’t actually the case. Going to the next crucial point, many of our doctors, accountants, engineers, and scientists rely on the information from AI systems. No issues! However, the trouble begins when they start believing in this information as if it had been provided by a trusted colleague. This does not imply that Artificial Intelligence or its results are always wrong. In fact, most of the time, AI researchers take pride in their results and their level of accuracy. What should bother us is the doubt of AI making a mistake, because mistakes in this field are not frequent, but can have a huge impact. Synced Review rightly identified some big AI fails of 2020, one of them is when a French chatbot, whose job was to decrease the workload of doctors, suggested committing suicide to someone.

Is AI dangerous?
What can be worse than a death threat? A real attempt to kill! Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) are artificial intelligence systems that use algorithms to set targets and employ a weapon system, without human intervention. This, if misused by a malevolent, such systems can cause mass destruction. Therefore, handling and controlling Artificial Intelligence is a big responsibility in itself.

On a similar note, as discussed before, autopilot mode is really powerful. However, it can be appreciated only until something completely unexpected happens, for which the algorithm has not been trained, in which case the pilot has to come to the rescue. Also, in the case of self-driving cars, AI is responsible for decision-making, such that taking the shortest route, the vehicle does not run over people. That’s where the need for human intervention arises.

Let’s think of a hypothetical parallel world, where the law and order are maintained by Artificial Intelligence and where the judiciary is a humanoid. Every time a new case comes by, it is the required that justice is done. However, the laws can be interpreted differently at different times by a machine, which may lead to a situation where the victims are being punished.

Source: LinkedIn

Would AI be a feasible replacement for all human tasks? In the current times, the answer is NO, and hence AI cannot exist without humans. More precisely, it can be said that there will always be a human hand behind every artificial algorithm, which can regulate its behavior and update it from time to time. Hence, it’s important to acknowledge “the real intelligence amidst the artificially intelligent world”.

Thanks for reading. Hope this blog helped your scientific skills to grow and opened doors for many other innovative thoughts :)