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Jun 25, 2018 9:19:00 AM Grace Baldwin

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence

Fear of AI coverIf you fear artificial intelligence (AI), you're not alone.

In every sense, society has told you to be scared. From pop culture movies like The Terminator depicting a robot seeking revenge, to thought leaders like Stephen Hawking cautioning against technology, we have painted a chilling portrait of the future.

The reality, though, is more nuanced. In this piece, we'll go over some of the most common fears of artificial intelligence (AI). We'll also explain why you should embrace AI rather than fearing it.

Fear #1: AI will take away jobs

One of the most pervasive fears is that AI will steal millions of jobs.

The idea is that once we introduce AI to the labor market, the machine will take over much of the "heavy lifting" and automate tasks traditionally done by humans. Hence, people fear that their jobs could become obsolete—an understandable fear. After all, jobs bring social security so the implications of millions of people losing their sources of income are downright terrifying.  

The introduction of AI could impact society with enormous consequences. But is this really the reality of what will happen? 

The Reality: AI will both produce jobs and take over some jobs

AI will take over human jobs in specific sectors, particularly in the labor-intensive ones.

But AI will also create new industries—and jobs within them.

However, there is a catch. These types of jobs will differ from what now exists in the world. They will require higher levels of computer literacy than many of the jobs AI will replace, and the challenges will be new and different. To avoid massive job loss, our economies, societies, and education systems need to prepare for the change. Looking back in history such as the industrial revolution can help us navigate the change.

Fear #2: AI is expensive

The high price of AI is another issue that scares people from embracing the technology. The value of AI isn't immediately apparent, so the investment doesn't appear to be "worth it."

Implementing AI is no small task. It takes tens of thousands of dollars to install the technology and countless hours to do so. Organizations need to make a substantial investment up front to create any real change, both with time and money.  

Many institutions wonder if it's even worth the energy. Artificial intelligence is supposed to be easy to use and that it should do the hard work for you. But sometimes this is not always the case. Often, the implementation of AI gets delayed and pushed to the back burner. This thinking is enough to push people away from adopting AI immediately.

The Reality: Heavy AI investment has long-term cost savings

While AI needs a significant investment, it's well worth it if organizations take serious action.

That's because AI can do two things:

  1. Reduce costs
  2. Increase profits

AI operates more intensively than humans. It never needs sick days or vacation, and it can work throughout the night with no need to rest. At a basic level, the AI can get the job done faster than humans.

AI can also, in some cases, be much more accurate than humans. That means less time spent correcting easily-avoided errors.

Both of these points translate into lower operating costs in an organization. But is that enough reason to encourage an AI overhaul in your institution? Many organizations would never take on such an expense just to cut costs—which is why it is better to see AI as an investment in future, long-term profits.

McKinsey released a report that analyzed the traits of successful early AI adopters. It unveiled that organizations like Netflix and Amazon, both of which made significant AI investments, saw the technology as a way to increase their future profits. As a result, they felt comfortable spending millions of dollars to make substantial changes in their organizational structures.

This significant adoption paid off and led to massive returns. Amazon saw a 40% ROI on $775 million (USD) spent on automating their packaging process. Netflix estimates that AI-powered personalized recommendations save them $1 billion (USD) every year. This profit-boost is clear across most sectors. The same McKinsey report also found that significant AI adopters report profit margins of 3%-15% higher than their competitors in most industries.

Fear #3: AI can think for itself

Finally, one of the most critical fears of AI is that it will overpower humans.

From a young age, the media bombard us with stories of AI taking over. The stories tell us that once AI reaches a certain point, it will take over and leave humans fighting for our lives.

Entering any discussion about AI without this cultural context is impossible. Even the most enthusiastic adopters of AI will still have creeping fears of what the future holds. Our deeply-rooted cultural understanding of AI is hard to overcome and for a good reason. What will we do when the robots rise?

The Reality: AI isn't "intelligent" the way humans are

AI isn't as smart as pop culture might have you believe. At its core, it is just a computer program with the ability to improve upon itself.

Stories about how AI is beating the world's best poker players or discovering solar systems are real. But they are also misleading. AI can perform exceptionally well at just about any task, but it is highly specialized. Once trained in one thing, it can't do anything else.

It also cannot "think" about that task the way humans can, unless it is unsupervised learning. Instead, it only runs a program to analyze what is happening in front of it.

This ability to "think" sets humans apart from AI. Humans can analyze whether their opponent is bluffing. AI can only scan the mathematical possibilities that lie in the cards.

Terminator-style robots are still a long ways off, and today's AI is not interested in human domination. Instead, it serves us in ways that were previously unimaginable. It's a useful tool for many purposes, like naming guinea pigs at an animal shelter.

Conclusion

It's understandable that we are afraid of AI, but many of our fears are based off half-truths and misconceptions in our pop culture.

AI can be an economy-building, profit-boosting, human-friendly tool—one that organizations should embrace, not fear. It is redefining "business as usual," making work more efficient and less laborious. While there will undoubtedly be challenges with the technology as it changes our world, we can prepare for these changes in order to alleviate the impact it will have on society.

Interested in learning more about how AI will affect education? Check out our Malmberg case study below. 

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