The hype, the hysteria and the reality of artificial intelligence

Depending on whom you ask, artificial intelligence will either result in a god-like super-intelligence saving the world – or it destroys it. Let’s look at the hype, the hysteria and the reality of artificial intelligence. We’ll also discuss AI trends for the foreseeable future based on what is happening today.

The Hype

Why do so many people want to create intelligent, emotional artificial intelligence? Because they hope to upload their brains to the digital cloud and enjoy a form of afterlife. Others want to create super-human AI that they assume will be benevolent and correct, telling us what to do and how to live while creating heaven on Earth. Yes, they’re appropriating religion. At least the Church of the Singularity is honest in this regard.

A less radical but more popular promise is that automation will take all the jobs and we’ll all get to live on permanent vacation. We’ll ignore for a moment the high crime rates, many broken families and serious drug epidemics in poor areas already. Let’s be honest – not all jobs can be automated, and there are many that shouldn’t be automated.

The Hysteria

The hysteria about artificial intelligence is understandable, though it is easy to play upon the fears and the possibility to get to irrational hysteria. For example, we have killer military drones today. They check back with a human operator before missiles are launched from the UAV to kill the target. We’re debating today whether or not to let the UAV just shoot a target. However, we’re a long way from a machine uprising where the central AI decides to kill everyone. We’re more likely to get systematic oppression via algorithm through a system like Sesame Credit. Yet that is a system that was designed by humans, monitored by humans and continues to have human social workers and political officers monitoring people and inputting records. AI only makes it easier to track where people go and what they do, while artificial intelligence simplifies the enforcement of various punishments as well. People, for better and for worse, remain in charge.

The Reality

We are seeing significant shifts on all fronts due to artificial intelligence technology. However, the changes often further trends that were already going on. Sensors and motor control systems connected to manufacturing control systems simply collect data from far more sensors. Smarter manufacturing equipment needs less human supervision. You still need mechanics to fix things. However, AI means that the machine can recognize unusual vibration patterns and call for predictive maintenance instead of simply signally when the motor has died or the equipment has gotten too hot. Manufacturing facilities have been automating for years. AI simply means they can do with slightly fewer maintenance personnel.

The power grid has far more intelligence built into it, though this is necessary to try to balance the highly variable renewable power coming in with customer demand. We are seeing AI used to balance supply and demand on the power grid as well as give targeted advice for energy conservation. The advanced intelligence is also used to find trends and make predictions so that you can avoid blackouts because the incoming storm has made all the wind turbines stall or caused the solar output to decline rapidly.

AI is affecting our world in a variety of ways. Big Data is the attempt to mine the firehose of data flooding into all organizations. Humans are still required to find meaning and draw wisdom from it. AI is being used to market more effectively to consumers and identify suspicious activity on a network after it has learned how that organization works. Fortunately, we don’t yet have AI actively hacking our networks and literally fighting each other.