AI in 100 years: Uplifting Utopia or Doomed Dystopia?

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere! We’ve literally been hearing about the terms AI and ML every day since the past few months. And it’s not just during the pandemic that it’s popularity has grown. It has been on an exponential rise for quite some time now. AI and ML have transitioned into buzzwords recently and every new app, website, software and even business is claiming that they’re using this technology in one way or the other.

But what constitutes an Artificial Intelligence?

The term “AI” has been around for decades… yes, multiple decades! It could be best attributed to John McCarthy of MIT, although the foundation for this technology was in the works much earlier. People have been writing about this technology in fiction way before even computers were built. Frankenstein’s monster, is a prime example of classic fiction which describes a man-made intelligence.

Is that it though? Do all smart technologies today can be termed as having artificial intelligence? Well, the short answer is no. Intelligence does not equate to complex logic or sophisticated algorithms. An intelligent object is capable of gathering information, analyzing it and deriving conclusions or taking actions by applying the results of the analysis to current and future events. So basically, nothing but self-learning.

All living beings who can learn from their actions or observations and apply the newly developed knowledge to similar situations are called intelligent. This is why, we haven’t been building intelligent systems when we invented smartphones or search engines or computational software. However, there have been very small incremental developments in the pursuit of building Artificial Intelligence systems in the background since a few decades. 

So why now? Why did AI blow up so much in the last couple of years?

You may have certainly noticed that there has been a rapid rise in the use of the term AI in the past couple of years. This is because with the availability of today’s modern computing power, we are able to successfully deliver benefits of ML to end users at blazingly fast speeds. This has enabled the industry to accelerate growth and enable developers to get on board for developing amazing applications of this amazing technology.

The most common application of Artificial Intelligence today is Generative AI (GAI). One of the reasons for GAI to reach the general public could be because it is one of the simplest yet most useful applications best suited to implement this technology. It is also a great testing ground before implementing it into more complex applications which deal with the physical world (such as IoT).

GAI basically allows users to generate text, images, audio and video automatically by simple user prompts. In the background the algorithms (often termed as models) have been trained (remember, self-learning?) on a massive set of data, usually taken off from the internet. Using this data to learn about how people speak, how the world looks like, etc. the models are able to generate an accurate response which usually satisfies the end user. As you can see, this is one of the most easily adoptable applications and it’s extremely useful for the end user.

What’s Artificial General Intelligence?

There has been another term, however, which describes a more macro world in which different forms or applications of AI co-exist to form a complex system which is capable of a lot more than you can imagine. This is system is being usually termed as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). AGI would have the capability of making its own decisions based off from results of other smaller artificial intelligence driven applications and will be able to look at the bigger picture. Sounds scary? Well luckily, we’re still far away from developing such a complex system and lack the resources to allow for its development at an individual level.

There have also been advances into other forms of artificial intelligence in the recent years as well such as personalization, autonomous vehicles, recommendation systems, decision making, simulation, etc. However, GAI is certainly going to lead the revolution of this technology in the coming years.

Machine Learning & AI

Is it really everywhere? Or are we still far from an AI powered world?

Well, to be quite honest, artificial intelligence (and particularly GAI) was on the brink of popping off its exponential growth curve for a few years now and we can confidently believe that it has been on the rise for the last couple of years. Ever since companies like OpenAI, Scale AI and even Google and Microsoft have been launching AI enabled products, growth has been phenomenal. GAI is most definitely being already used in places where it is not even distinguishable to the end users owing to how good it is.

However, there is still far to go when we say “everywhere”. As we already discussed, the possibilities are endless and hence there can never be a limit on how it can be used in the future. Maybe it completely transforms society and we end up co-existing with technology for the better. Maybe it’s just another technology we adapt in certain applications and it gets really good, but never ends up seeping into other areas. It’s really hard to tell yet, but the future definitely looks… interesting!

That begs the question… Is the future a technological utopia or dystopia?

As interesting as it may sound, this technology certainly has its limitations, for now. We have been developing it for individual applications and it still is struggling a bit to keep up because of hallucinations (which is really a topic for another day). Although with each iteration of the technology, things have been improving quite significantly.

Us humans will always be limited by the intelligence and resources we possess, however, an artificial modular system could potentially be built to have unlimited resources and can possess potentially unlimited intelligence to unravel all the mysteries in the world. It can help us understand how the world works, understand gravity and how it ties with quantum mechanics, observe and experiment on elemental building blocks of the universe and study phenomena like black holes.

Understanding these concepts of physics and the laws of the universe can enable us to manipulate and shape the world around us. Maybe we end up with an AGI which is capable of solving one of the world’s most important problems like hunger, racism, climate change, crime, medicine and healthcare, extinction, etc. A well-developed AGI can be capable of so much more and can be a crucial instrument in propelling humanity to become a truly inter-planetary species. Sounds like the future is indeed a utopia?

AI

On the contrary, there are several cases where things can go significantly wrong as already predicted by some of the most important people in the world including Elon Musk. However, making predictions at this stage is extremely early and with technology you never know what ideas and solutions pop up in due course of time. We never could’ve imagined coming this far with technology 100 years ago and same thing holds for a 100 years from now. All we need to hope is that every possibility of things going wrong and driving us to a dystopian future is well thought of before launching these technologies at each incremental update and we have multiple fail safe’s set up at these increments.

People often tend to classify things into black and white and forget that not everything has to be binary. There lies a whole spectrum between black and white and things can be classified into shades of grey. Same is the case with Artificial Intelligence. We cannot say for sure if developments are taking us towards a technological utopia or dystopia. All we know for sure right now is that it’s going to be one of the most important if not THE most important technology in the future and it’s going to change our lives hopefully for the better, sooner than we think.

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