AI Has an Image Problem and That’s Not Fair

It’s funny to people – we love huge technological innovations, but we also tend to fear them.

For example, when trains became popular in the mid-19y
century and made it possible for travelers to move faster and easier than ever before, some claimed that speed, noise and loud movements could drive passengers crazy. Also, when phones first became publicly available and revolutionized communication in the early 20’sy
century, people were worried that they were a threat of electrocution. Others wondered if they would make people lazier and destroy social bonds. (We now have social media for that – just kidding.)

Our latest technophobia topic? Artificial intelligence.

Some people call it AI anxiety — the fear that machines will eliminate jobs and the need for human workers — and might end up taking over the entire world. Will we one day look back and shake our heads because AI has raised such wildly excessive fears? It’s a good bet that yes.

First of all, it is important to understand that the most outrageous visions of the future of AI are based on concepts that do not exist today (and may never be). Our concerns are based on the hypothetical concept of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and a world far from science fiction where machines can simulate human thinking.

The problem is that, in fact, AI today is still very narrow, and its applications are limited to completing certain types of tasks. Most of the use of artificial intelligence today relies on machine learning to find patterns in vast amounts of data, make predictions and automate actions based on those predictions. The scariest part about AI today is unintended bias — and we’re working on it.

Another thing that often gets lost in technophobia? We actually use AI every day and really love it. Every time your email app detects spam and moves it to the trash, or Netflix recommends just the right movie, AI recommendation engines play an important role.

But what about the impact of artificial intelligence on the workforce? Should we be afraid that machines will come to our jobs?

The answer is no.

Studies show that AI is proving to be a workforce multiplier rather than a substitute. In fact, many experts predict that AI will create more jobs than the displaced. In the Future of Jobs 2020 report, for example, the World Economic Forum estimated that 85 million jobs will be replaced while 97 million new jobs will be created in 26 countries by 2025.

The bottom line is that AI and humans naturally complement each other, and it only makes sense to view AI as a new type of assistive technology. AI is better equipped to perform ordinary tasks faster and more accurately than any human can do. As a Deloitte report explained, “Human and AI will augment each other, and change the nature of work for the better.”

So why are people so afraid of AI, when it’s just a tool that can perform some types of tasks quickly and accurately while freeing humans to do more interesting types of work?

Artificial intelligence has an image problem. For many years, it was closely associated with science fiction. So how do we make sure that when someone talks about AI, the listener thinks of narrow machine learning and AI models rather than science fiction?

I suggest that those who work in, analyze and write about enterprise technology simply refrain from talking about AI as a magical destination in and of itself. We all have a responsibility to fix the image of AI by educating the people we interact with that AI is not synonymous with science fiction and we have nothing to fear from this new type of assistive technology.

Leave a Comment