We are all aware of computers playing chess, but was it conceivable even a decade back that chess could be played without human intervention or any programming? This is AI or artificial intelligence where AlphaZero, a programme developed by Google, kept winning games without any pre- programmed moves. AI also has been used to create medicines that can destroy bacteria or a virus. And GPT-3—generative pre-trained transformer—can generate humanlike text without any prompting. Welcome to the world of AI.
One may recollect that when we all eagerly waited for the epic serials, Ramayana and Mahabharat, we had seen the warfare between the good and bad with weapons on both sides being demolished mid-air. The producers of these epics had conceptualised what divine intervention could do. But today AI can do the same, and this is where there can be a threat to global peace. This warning is given by Henry A Kissinger, one of the authors of the book, The Age of AI and Our Fuman Future. Kissinger, who was not a pro-India diplomat, has his share of experience in the political world and understands that just like nuclear warfare is mutually destructing, the same holds for AI warfare. Drone warfare is a milder version, which has human programming. But AI left to its own would have its own strategies for invading other countries, which cannot go unchecked.
The Age of AI, by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher describe in some detail the prevalence of AI and its inevitability in future where every aspect of our lives will be guided by this force. Today, even little things like what flashes when we are on the Internet is based on past searches and is driven by AI. Facebook on its own will not be able to sift through millions of messages every minute to blank out offensive material if not for AI. Supermarkets can track what we look for and which products we touch to conclude our areas of interest and then continuously flood our phones with the right messages that are linked to our tastes. Therefore, it is there to stay and proliferate.
Does AI have any feeling? Probably not as of today, though there is considerable development in the field of robotics where robots can spend time with senior citizens and talk with empathy. Driverless cars are already on the forefront of innovation that use AI to guide the vehicles. Clearly substitution for human beings is being seen everywhere and soon we would play second fiddle to AI.
What about education? With several applications like Siri already present, would children require teachers, or can they manage with such help? One cannot be certain as several solutions can be found through these means that do not involve human beings. We have seen that AI completes sentences we are texting, identifies the book or store we are searching for, which is quite revolutionary and scary at the same time. Someone is watching us for sure.
The authors take us through the history of change starting from the ancient times to the reformation, renaissance, industrial revolution, technology revolution and the latest advances in human evolution. The advent and spread of AI is a reality and society must cooperate not only to comprehend but adapt as it is changing human history. The power of AI is immense, especially when we look at it from the point of view of medicine and other applied sciences. It is being used in almost every sphere starting with manufacturing to advertising, art and culture. AI can be used to predict and mitigate natural disasters. Therefore, it is something that cannot be brushed aside for sure.
An interesting aspect of AI that the authors rightly stress is that, unlike human beings, AI does not have intention, morality, motivation, or emotion. Hence AI tends to be rigid and goes on the basis of inputs and outputs and cannot stop and make judgments. In a way AI does not have common sense. Therefore, the use of AI in warfare can be dangerous. AI does get constrained in several ways. For instance, the code sets the parameters for its action. Further, AI gets constrained by its objective function which designs what is to be optimised and hence it can only process inputs that it is designed to recognise. But this technology is being brought to another level, which is ‘artificial general intelligence’, where it can complete any intellectual task humans are capable of.
The authors argue that when reality can be predicted and simulated by an AI that can assess what is relevant to our lives, the role of human reason can change. This means that senses of our individual and societal purposes will also get altered. This may not always be fulfilling, especially if a scholar is told about the answer by AI before the research begins or for a driver who changes the lane based on some unexpected development in traffic.
The jury is still out on the net gains. For several humans AI will be empowering, as the experience of surpassing traditional reasoning through specialised technology gives superior solutions such as in medicine, chemistry and physics. In modern times, getting AI to suggest optimal solutions helps in decision making where human deficiency is covered for. This can be extending to discovering new products and solutions. AI has already helped in becoming tools for fostering information intermediation where TikTok and YouTube promote some videos over others.
Therefore, the authors believe that while traditional reason and faith will persist in the age of AI, their nature and scope will be affected by the introduction of new machine-operated form of logic. AI can lead to progress on questions that have proven beyond our present ability to answer. This will be the final confluence of human and artificial intelligence. We need to prepare for this transition for sure.
Madan Sabnavis is an independent economist
The Age of AI and Our Human Future
Henry A Kissinger, Eric Schmidt & Daniel Huttenlocher
Pp 256, Rs 799