The 1950s saw the birth of the first rudimentary artificial intelligence systems, only capable of completing singular, straightforward tasks. “The Logic Theorist”, created in 1955, solved math theorems just as fluently as mathematicians at the time. Since then, AI systems have advanced at a rapid rate, automating entire jobs, and crunching unfathomable amounts of data. From underwater robotic drilling rigs to the International Space Station’s robo assistant “CIMON”, it’s evident that AI technology is here to stay. For better or for worse, AI will impact the lives of millions within the next five years.

Positive Applications

While many of the more labor-intensive assembly line styles of work are predicted to become automated, professional positions such as healthcare and construction are benefiting from “Intelligence Augmentation” or IA. Despite possessing what machines lack -- critical thinking skills, creativity and intuition -- humans fail to effectively analyze large volumes of data. That’s where AI come into play, assisting users with computational power to solve problems they otherwise could not. In the healthcare sector, a group of American and Chinese researchers have developed an IA model that is capable of diagnosing common childhood diseases. The team validated the IA’s framework by using a deep learning network to analyze over 1.3 million pediatric visits.

“Our model demonstrates high diagnostic accuracy across multiple organ systems”, the team says, “and is comparable to experienced pediatricians in diagnosing common childhood diseases.” Currently, in the process of development, other IAs can detect early stages of cancer that normally would go overlooked. As these technologies improve, they will become critical assets for doctors: assisting in warzones, aiding third-world countries, and treating rural villages. In the foreseeable future, these IAs may become universally accessible, allowing anyone to self diagnose and seek medical attention. This would mark a paradigm shift in healthcare, from treatment to prevention.

In the construction industry, the management of mega-projects comes with a slew of nightmarish challenges. Contractors frequently face complications while trying to work with projects’ overall blueprints, resulting in lengthy delays. “Building Information Modeling”, an industry specific IA, can be used to mitigate these issues. These models test thousands of different solutions, taking into account numerous construction variables, to produce beautiful generative designs. MX3D is an Amsterdam based company pioneering research for generative design and 3-D printing technologies. In 2015, the company set out to construct a bridge that would span a famous Amsterdam canal. Four years later, the project is being installed into its new home, serving as an elegant display of the powers of AI. According to the companies website, “The software is programmed to reduce the required material to a minimum when generating the most efficient shape for a specific task – just as a bone will optimize itself in nature.”

These IAs harness algorithms similar to natural selection, improving designs until a solution is fully satisfied. Rather than being planned by hand, future cities will be organically produced by AI models that find a balance between functionality and art. These cities will coexist with their natural environment, reducing the impacts of deforestation while mitigating the produced carbon footprint. On both the micro and macro levels, the construction of a vast array of parts can be exported to these AI.

Generally designed automobiles that weigh half of what they do now, fluid workspaces that take into account employee needs, and aircraft that finally have enough legroom will all be plausible through the use of human-computer collaboration. The future of engineering will produce powerful designs that adapt to society's changing needs. By harnessing the power of AI, humans can augment themselves to overcome limitations.

These technologies have no boundaries; virtually every sector of the economy can benefit from augmentative technology in one way or another. While it is true that AI will consume many jobs, the amount of untapped potential for the application of those technologies will easily make up for it.

Negative applications

“Deepfakes” are AI-generated videos and images that alter someone’s facial expressions and speech for malicious intent. Deepfakes of Mark Zuckerburg criticizing Facebook's data practices look so real that the company had to issue a statement regarding them. Deepfake technology isn’t hard to acquire either. The viral mobile program, FaceApp, which uses intuitive AI to modify a user's facial features, has been downloaded by millions. Another free program, “Lyrebird”, uses snippets of user’s audio input to create a fully functional clone of someone’s unique voice within thirty minutes.

Deepfakes are still discernible from real media but as AI technology rapidly advances, who's to say what is real and what isn’t? History itself can be rewritten. Lunar landings, wars, and ethnic cleansings can all be falsified through cover-ups. Entire presidential campaigns can be burned to the ground by demonizing deepfakes from opposing parties. Foreign governments can issue authentic-looking threats, triggering military retaliation, and mass hysteria.

Seeing is believing but in the case of AI-generated deepfakes, reality can be whatever one chooses. China has had an authoritarian rule for centuries, but with the advent of AI and the country’s push for technological superiority, many have started to call China’s authoritarian rule “Algorithmic Governance.”

With over 300 million surveillance cameras set to be installed by 2020, -- more than any other country -- China’s government has begun investing in companies that use facial recognition AI technologies to identify criminals, jaywalkers, tax evaders and Muslim minorities. One such company, Cloudwalk, outlined features of its surveillance systems in a recent marketing presentation. “If originally one Uighur lives in a neighborhood and within 20 days, six Uighurs appear”, it said on its website, “it immediately sends alarms,” presumptuously to local law enforcement.

Critics argue that technology being used to profile minorities will inevitably be used to suppress them. With billions of dollars being set aside by China’s Ministry of Security for computerized surveillance and government projects codenamed “Skynet” and “Sharp Eyes,” it’s easy to see how AI can be used maliciously. Such sophisticated systems could be used to systematically track the actions of a countries population, repressing the media and sensitive groups in the process. A government with AI surveillance would have eyes and ears literally everywhere.

Algorithmic racism, sexism and falsification can be coded into these machines creating a system where citizens are only truly safe in the privacy of their minds. History is marked by the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and brutal dictator rulership such as Haddams Hussein’s. Armed with the power of AI surveillance, future governments could repeat these same mistakes. Artificial intelligence is here and it’s here to say. Within the next five, ten and twenty five years, AI will drastically change almost every aspect of the working market and our personal lives.

It is a marvelous time to be alive and an even greater honor to be an author in the developing story of these technologies. It is increasingly critical, however, to do so with caution and responsibility. We must tread lightly. We are introducing machines into society that will eventually be free thinkers -- fully capable of making their own decisions, producing their own products and forming their own opinions.

Author's Bio: 

I am a computer science professor. Being a tech enthusiast I keep close tabs on trends and will be glad to share and discuss the latest wrapups in the field with the community.