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Conversation about AI

We note that with the rapid progression of AI comes a whole series of questions are being asked by people. In this blog, we have compiled  a series of questionnaires submitted by readers of the UKs’ newspaper, Telegraph, on September 18th, 2023.

Concerns about AI range from how will it change the nature of work to what it might mean for human life on earth. As artificial intelligence continues to advance at a rapid pace, technology CEOs and influencers across the globe have been sharing their views on what impacts are to be expected.

Many are concerned how artificial intelligence will change the nature of their work, and whether it will make certain jobs redundant. Others question how society will change, and indeed what the advancement of AI might mean for human life on earth. 

The Telegraph’s technology editor, James Titcomb, has answered the most pressing of readers’ queries about AI and what it holds for the future. 

Question 1:

“How fast is AI coming along? For instance, is it learning how human emotions work yet?”

The Telegraph’s technology editor, James Titcomb, responds: 

“AI is clearly making rapid progress in some areas, but remains fairly basic in others. One of the problems with the term ‘artificial intelligence’ is that it makes us think of these systems in human terms. 

“The reality is that in some fields – arithmetic, for example – machines have outperformed us for decades; in others, they are nowhere near. Emotions fall into the latter: we haven’t really built AI that exhibits anything close to an emotion, partly because we don’t really understand how they work in living things. 

“There are certainly AIs that scan faces and voices to detect emotions, which have been used by police and marketing companies, although their effectiveness has been questioned.

“For now, it’s probably better to think about AI in terms of individual capabilities than comparing it to the human brain. In some areas, such as generating images or summarising text, it is improving quickly, although these changes tend to come in fits and spurts, rather than improving gradually.”

Question 2:

How do we prevent this tech hitting escape velocity and leaving us behind?”

Telegraph’s expertreplies: 

“For now, AI still can’t do a lot of things we can do, so it’s unlikely that we will be left behind any time soon, but experts do have some ideas about how to manage its rise. 

“One is that we should ban AI from writing computer code to develop AI. This would prevent a phenomenon known as ‘recursive self-improvement’ where a system repeatedly improves itself until it outsmarts humans and then becomes all-powerful.

“Another emerging research area is known as AI alignment: ensuring that a robot’s goals are in line with ours. It is hoped that this would prevent famous doomsday scenarios where an AI is given a straightforward task – cleaning up the oceans or creating paperclips – and ends up destroying humanity as a side effect.”

Question 3:

Surely we are our own worst enemies when it comes to AI?”

Here’s what Telegraph’s expert has to say: 

“If you bring up concerns about artificial intelligence with researchers, or suggest that progress could be slower, many will argue that easing back is pointless. They say that somebody is going to develop this technology sooner than later, and wouldn’t you rather it was us than China or Russia?

“As with most technologies, development is often hard to stop. One exception has been nuclear weapons, where a concerted international effort stopped their deployment decades ago. Safety advocates would like to see similar treaties and international agreements when it comes to AI: some have proposed a body similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency to regulate use of the technology.”

Question 4:

How will cybersecurity experts’ work be impacted by AI?”

Telegraph’s expert responds: 

“In short: they’ll be busy! Security experts have warned for years that AI could lead to the industrialisation of hacking as automated systems probe for weaknesses in security networks. 

“A growing concern is that AI software that can accurately replicate people’s voices and likenesses could bypass security controls such as voice banking, or automate scams so that vulnerable people are fooled into sending money.

“We’re yet to see that come to pass, but it is probably only a matter of time. Cybersecurity experts are likely to be as in-demand as ever.”

Question 5:

I don’t understand why AI is being introduced. Why would we as a nation give further way to instability in the employment industry and opportunity to earn a salary? It’s frightening.”

James says: 

“New technologies – from the loom to the steam engine – have often threatened to displace jobs, but have in the end made us more productive, with plenty of employment still available. The question with AI is whether it represents a step change that could make vast swathes of the workforce, not just certain jobs, redundant. We’re not there yet.

“The other response is that it’s simply difficult to hold inventions back, at least not without very strict regulation. Employers that could save money by employing AI are unlikely to voluntarily choose to ignore it.”

Question 6:

Do we need AI?”

Telegraph’s expert replies: 

“We often talk about the downsides of AI, and many of the uses that have emerged in the last few months – cheating at homework, hacking or copyright infringement – seem like things we could do without. AI’s supporters say there are very serious advantages, such as making us more productive at work, helping to discover new drugs, and the eventual arrival of self-driving cars, which could make the roads safer.

“The UK’s flatlining productivity in the last decade and a half has consistently puzzled economists and politicians: if AI can help fix the puzzle, it would certainly be a benefit.”

Question 7:

“Surely if jobs are at risk it means it’s not good for the economy with less tax being pumped into the system, shouldn’t the Government intervene to protect the citizens?”

Telegraph’s expert  answers:

“Generally, new technologies haven’t meant fewer jobs over the long run, but there is an active debate over whether taxpaying human jobs should be protected in the short term to minimise disruption to individual livelihoods.

“One proposal, that has been supported by Bill Gates and others, is to tax robots and AI in the same way we do humans. In theory, this would level the playing field, putting humans at less of an advantage.

“In practice, it’s hard to define AI, and even harder to tax it. But if millions of humans are rendered redundant, governments will have to find a way to adapt. Higher taxes on wealth or on corporate profits to fund a universal basic income are among the ideas that have been mooted.”

Question 8:

To what extent are A level and university essay questions being redesigned to overcome AI assistance?”

Telegraph’s experts says:

“One of the first clear impacts of ChatGPT has been a cheating epidemic. Thousands of students have turned in essays and homework generated by the system, leading some schools and universities to ban the software. 

“Others have turned to anti-cheating tools designed to check if something has been written by AI, although many produce errors, leading students who have written their own work being falsely accused of cheating.

“Teachers seem to be gradually adapting, rather than resisting, however. Some are moving essay writing to the classroom, where students cannot use ChatGPT. Others are allowing students to use the software, but adding interviews to show that students understand the subject. 

“The latter might prove more useful: like calculators and spell check, students are likely to continue using AI in the world of work.”

Question 9:

If you were a teenager soon to be making choices for university and future career, what would you seek or avoid with AI in mind?”

Telegraph’s expert replies: 

“This is a great question. The instinctual answer is computer science or maths: if AI is going to replace jobs, it seems a safe bet that at least the people developing it will be in employment. 

“Any skilled physical job is likely to be in demand for some time: while software has come on in leaps and bounds, robots remain a challenge. Lawyers will have no shortage of work either, judging by the frequent lawsuits against AI companies from people who say they have been libelled or had their data stolen.

“With some exceptions, however, many of today’s jobs are still likely to exist, just in different forms. AI is a tool that still requires human intervention.”

Question 10:

Should we consider films based on tech, such as Will Smith in I, Robot being a very possible reality within the next 50 years?”

Telegraph’s expert answers: 

“Probably not. Hollywood movies such as The Terminator have done a good job of entertaining us but a pretty poor job of educating us about an AI future. For example, they often give AI human qualities – a lust for power – that we have no evidence they possess.

“50 years is a long time frame, and AI will undoubtedly make huge advances over the decades. 

“We should certainly be wary of the risks – but the most risky scenarios to do with AI are probably about humans incorrectly deploying them in areas like weapons systems than the typical Hollywood examples of a race of robots enslaving humans.”

Question 11:

Will AI be able to replace customer service operators?”

Telegraph’s expert replies:

“This is something that is already happening. Go on many websites today and you’ll find yourself talking to an AI bot, rather than a human operator. Energy provider Octopus, for example, says that customers actually prefer communicating with AI than staff.

“AI is unlikely to be able to answer all queries for many years, but the number of cases it can deal with are likely to gradually increase until it is handling the majority of customer service issues. 

“For now, AI is better at answering chats and emails than phone calls, but voice recognition and replication technology means that is changing too, although some people may find it uncanny.”

Question 12:

“As a finance and banking professional, how can one adapt to the new AI environment to avoid retrenchment?”

Telegraph’s expert says:

“It is hard to predict, but the white collar jobs that are probably most at risk from artificial intelligence are those in repetitive or data-intensive tasks: data entry and analysis, compliance, and so on. Those that involve a lot of personal interaction are less likely to be affected. That is probably the case from finance to a lot of other office-based jobs.

“These changes tend to happen relatively gradually though, and employers often find new jobs for their workers. Computers and the internet have changed offices hugely, but we still have just as many people employed in them, even though we have fewer typists and secretaries.”

We hope the answers will shed some lights on concerns raised by the readers of Telegraph. These concerns should also be in the mind of people all over the world.