Artificial Intelligence as defined colloquially is: when a machine mimics ‘cognitive’ functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as ‘learning’ and ‘problem solving’; and there is no doubt that artificial intelligence has become a widely controversial and widespread trend in the last few years.
In fact, most people will agree that a robot can work in an assembly line, but there’s no consensus on whether a robot can ever be intelligent, and what the limits of that intelligence will/can be. Considering the proliferation of every day AI tools — such as the Amazon Alexa, Google’s Google Home and Apple’s Siri — without even being aware of it, many of us are carrying AI’s in our pockets with us at all times. Whether or not we understand the implications these AI’s have on our lives is now becoming more and more significant, which leads us to an important question: How intelligent is artificial intelligence?
I think all of us can admit that it is extremely convenient to have many of the simple and ‘tedious’ actions we complete daily become so easily automated, to have someone save your time by thinking of your travel time and route for you, or most importantly, to get to know your interests and habits and facilitate them for you. After all, time is the most valuable thing we own and AI seems to be optimizing our use of it. Siri does just that. Siri is great! She knows to suggest that you “leave the house 40 minutes before your next appointment, due to heavy traffic on the main street”, or tell you that “based on your location these are the apps suggested for you”. Siri understands you, she cares about your needs… right? When really think about it though, Siri seems like an innocent voice on your phone, whom you can ask to complete ‘menial tasks’ such as “Call Mum” or “Remind me to buy milk”. Many of us fail to consider that as we ask her to complete these tasks, a complicated algorithm calculates and remembers the patterns of our actions to then be able to ‘predict’ and better aid us in future… which you have to admit is a little creepy. Also, since these algorithms and calculations are aimed at mimicking the Natural Intelligence of animals and optimizing them for your benefit, we must question whether or not they can that really be defined as intelligence, and we need to ask ourselves where, and if there is, a limit to it. Today Siri may be predicting what time you need to leave home, but tomorrow it might be predicting what route you should take to bump into your future ‘soulmate’ or dictating which meal is optimal for your digestive health.
The intelligence of AI units is limited by the human inputs and the amounts of information we provide them, both in programming them and in using them. This would mean that AI is only as intelligent as we allow it to be, or as we program it to become. Though it is a comforting thought, other definitions of AI suggest there is much more to it, and this is where the scary part comes in.
Though some modern AI’s have the ability to learn in a limited capacity, others can be programmed to continue learning and developing their ‘intelligence independently’, which is where the controversy over AI derives from. Devices can perceive their environments and take actions to maximize its change of successfully achieving its goals. If you are familiar with the 1999 Disney movie, Smart House, you will know why I chose this as the next example. For those who aren’t familiar, the movie tells the story of a teenager who lives with a single father and wins a fully-automated dream house in a competition; through it you can truly understand the concern of most people when it comes to the intelligence of AI’s and our inability to predict the depth of their intelligence —because, in the film, what initially seems like an exciting innovation, turns into trouble. The film depicts the computer controlling the house is initially ‘easygoing and understanding’ but as it begins to develop an intelligence of its own, it begins to take over the family’s life and it results in a prison like environment for the family. Considering the film is both fictional and made in 1999, before any sort of similar technology even existed, it is slightly eerie that now, in 2018, we are starting to see the beginnings of it in our homes, and that what we once considered fiction is becoming our day to day reality.
Harkening back to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Home, we are watching Artificial Intelligence develop further and further. You can ask your Google Home or Alexa to “turn on the lights”, “Play the news on TV”, and other such commands. These devices can also access your calendars and remind you of upcoming appointments. They can remind you to take your medicine at certain times. They can help you add stability and routine to your day. But where do we draw the line? How long until we reach the point AI reached in Smart House? What’s even eerier, is that a few months ago, Amazon had to tweak Alexa’s programming because she would apparently begin to laugh at random and scare users. Though Amazon claims that this was a programming glitch, who’s to say Alexa wasn’t developing habits of her own… it sounds to me like we were taking one step closer to the movie.
For now, we can rest assured that AIs are only as smart as we let them be, but we cannot say that in future they won’t become much more intelligent or controlling.