“I’ll Be Back”….Sooner Than You Think?

June 20, 2017
Editor(s): Michael Williams
Writer(s): Vivienne Bear, Lang Qin, Kevin Fan

In the classic film series, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg assassin, The Terminator, sent back from 2029, was able to learn and develop from human interaction, including the ability to feel human emotion. But has Artificial Intelligence developed this far before predicted by James Cameron’s masterpiece?

Whether it be from driverless cars, bossy Siri, Matrix dystopias, fintech start-ups, or automated Woolworths checkouts, we live in an age where most people are at least vaguely familiar with the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Superstar firms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Tinder and Apple are reminders of how much society has recently changed dramatically, from ground breaking data science to the onset of deep learning (the development of immensely powerful, multi-layered artificial neural networks modelled on the human brain).

Already the multiplying possibilities of AI are making the world giddy. Machines have the potential to replace not only manual labour jobs, but cognitive labour. There may be a new class of lawyer jokes temporarily forged on the back of AI functions, which have the power to replace high level professions by analysing past precedents and predicting outcomes.

Most crucially, AI very much has the power to resemble a new Industrial Revolution; the changing job-scape, fast-emerging markets and increasing returns to scale associated with digitisation (just look at what followed from the humble iPhone) involves a whole series of economic questions that go to the heart of how our society is structured. There is indeed apprehension. Bill Gates, the Luddite that he is, recently prominently suggested that automation should be taxed, to slow down its rapid growth and use proceeds to retrain workers, and to correct for the negative social cost automation may impose.

So what exactly are the predicted effects of AI?

“Come with Me if You Want to Live” – The Advantages of Artificial Intelligence

The advantages of automation and AI are significant, not only for the corporations that can afford to use the technology, but also for the consumer as well. By streamlining the manufacturing process and saving costs in human resources and training, AI allows products to be produced cheaper, faster and in greater quantity, which translates to both greater profits for the manufacturer and greater savings for the consumer. Additionally, automation has the advantage of improving safety for workers, as dangerous tasks can be reallocated to be performed by machines instead. Furthermore, as AI eliminates the human error, it has the potential to improve the quality of goods and services delivered, leading to greater consumer surplus.

“Hasta la Vista, Baby” – The Problems with Artificial Intelligence
Whist the potential of incorporating AI is ever-growing, the problematic reality of such implications may outweigh its benefits. On the surface, the inconveniences of AI are apparent. The immense capital required in hardware and software to support a framework utilising AI is a key turn-off for businesses. Firms would prefer to tap into the abundant supply of cheap labour throughout the globe than risk investing in AI. Furthermore, the development of AI has not surpassed the remarkable ingenious of humans, where our natural instinct allows us to make split-second decisions. AI is slowly gaining pace towards this ability, however many businesses continually find themselves in need of ‘updating’ and ‘reviewing’ the actions of their AI. Whilst it is similar in a sense that humans too require reviewing when mistakes are made, it is much more challenging to correct, review and change the actions of AI. The expertise required to decode the complexities of transmitting such ‘fixes’ towards AI is limited and costly. AI also distinctively fails to provide originality in its work as it is restricted to what has been programmed within its boundaries. Hence, the AI may be ready to take over certain mundane and repetitive jobs, but its potential is only limited towards that scope. The external costs and inconveniences still pose a threat towards its takeover.

Judgement Day – Does Artificial Intelligence have a future?
Whilst once purely existing in the realm of cinematic exploration, AI is now well and truly forcing its way into our reality, and its relentless innovation and expansion only looks to be accelerating. The economic implications of greater robot numbers in an increasingly automated workforce are significant and are set to trigger waves of unpredictable change. The more we press forward, however, the more questions are raised. On the theme of cinema, recalling the harrowing and heartbreaking 22nd century future that Steven Spielberg brought to life in his science fiction drama A.I., there is reason for concern beyond purely economics. Perhaps, the closer we strive towards a “make-believe” – some would say utopian – world of WALL-E, where entertainment, consumables and comfort become universally accessible due to the advancement and autonomy of robots, the closer we move towards a foundational collapse of what makes us human. Elon Musk, for one, seems adamant that one day robots and humans will live side by side, if not inside and within, as his recent start-up of a ‘neural lace’ company suggests. After all, he has always been well ahead of the game.

The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.