AI’s Vision Problem

Visions of an AI Apocalypse, or Just a Lack of Vision?
By Mass Swayne

Matt Swayne is a science writer  at Penn State and a communication professional interested in innovation and future technologies.

Some of the brightest people on the planet have a rather bleak assessment of the impact artificial intelligence will have on humanity’s future, assessments that run from living under the thumb of machine dictators to complete annihilation.

Here’s Elon Musk’s vision for AI:

“The least scary future I can think of is one where we have at least democratized AI because if one company or small group of people manages to develop godlike digital superintelligence, they could take over the world,” Elon Musk said. “At least when there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there would be no death. It would live forever. And then you’d have an immortal dictator from which we can never escape.”

Here’s the late Stephen Hawking’s vision for AI:

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Both quotes sound more like Woody Allen:

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

But, are futures — even futures envisioned by really smart people —  governed by evil robot dictators and threatened human extinction events, jobless economies, and meaningless existences really visions at all, or are they caricatures at best?

The future should not rest on these types of soundbyte exaggerations, says Fabian Westerheide, founder and CEO of Asgard and an international expert on Artificial Intelligence strategy and the rapid rise of the blockchain/token economy. What society needs is a vision for the future that doesn’t discount the possible dangers, but puts them in proper perspective with optimism and commitment.

Westerheide added that the blinders that limit the vision of AI to robot-led dictatorships should be taken off to help guide a future that’s both pro-human and pro-machine.

“For me, this is the future: humans and AI will work together,”

says Westerheide, who spoke at GrowthCon 2018 in Frankfurt, Germany.

There are signs that this isn’t just an optimistic vision, but a realistic one, as well. AI may take jobs, but could create jobs, too. And, let’s face it, AI might take away some crappy jobs, giving people who typically labored in those fields a chance for other more rewarding activities, if they retrain and seize the opportunity.

AI is starting to make progress in not just improving the quality of life, but improving life, itself. The health and medical industries are just beginning to feel the effects of artificial intelligence.

For example, Dr. Stephen Wiviott, executive director of the Clinical Trials Office at Partners HealthCare, recently suggested that AI could revolutionize clinical trials, adding it could cut costs by 90 percent because too much time is spent on checking and rechecking for human errors.

These developments show that, despite the media’s attention to AI’s doom and gloom scenarios, an entirely different future is possible. Although it often doesn’t get the headlines, it’s a vision shared by experts, such as Google’s Larry Page, Sebastian Thurn and Chris Anderson.

“We need to promote a vision for society and create goals that are ambitious enough to make us live for them and strive for them,”

said Westerheide, adding that there are signs that other people and institutions share this vision. The European Commission has finally published a strategy for supporting the European Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, for example.

“This is needed and a great step to a better future for Europe,” he said. “And I think it’s a step toward the future where AI plays a role in helping us live longer and happier lives, actually with less fear.”

Westerheide and dozens of other experts on AI will be on hand May 17, 2018 at the Rise of AI conference in Berlin, hosted by Asgard venture capital. Rise of AI is one of Europe’s first and largest conferences for Artificial Intelligence in Berlin.