A few years ago, you might have been forgiven for wondering whether it was just another fad. But recent advances – such as the emergence of generative AI tools like ChatGPT – have left most of us in no doubt that we’re witnessing the dawn of a new era. An era that’s likely to see our lives change just as dramatically as we saw with the arrival of personal computers, the internet, or smartphones.
Perhaps even more so – Google CEO Sundar Pichai famously stated back in 2016 that it would have a bigger impact than fire or electricity.
But let’s forget the hyperbole (if it is hyperbole) for a second and focus on the here and now. What are the most important things we need to understand about this revolutionary technology today? Interesting (or scary) though it may be to wonder whether we will be chauffeured in sentient flying taxis – or even falling in love and marrying robots – in decades to come, there are some pressing concerns that need to be addressed right now. So, here are the facts I believe that everyone needs to get to grips with in 2023 in order to navigate these early days of the AI era.
AI isn’t the future – it’s now
Yes, it’s early days, and the AI tools and apps that are blowing our minds today are going to look amusingly quaint compared to what we’re playing with in five years’ time. But make no mistake, AI is here today, embedded everywhere in the world around us. You might be one of the many who don’t even realize it – a survey a few years back found that while 84% of us were using AI on a daily basis, only 34% knew we were doing it. But when you’re shopping online, searching the internet, ordering food deliveries, hailing a ride, navigating from place to place, or enjoying music and movies, you’re probably using AI.
It's still tempting to think of AI as something from the domain of science fiction that might emerge at some point in the future – because, to adults alive today, that’s been the case for most of our lives. And today’s AI doesn’t’ exactly look and behave like what we might have been expecting, if we grew up watching Dr. Who, Star Trek, or The Matrix. But if we understand the term AI to mean machines that are capable of simulating at least some of the cognitive functions of biological brains – specifically today, the capacity to learn and improve – then that’s clearly what we have. The last ten years have seen some of the world's biggest companies focusing their efforts on building these abilities into everyday products and services, which is what has brought us to the point we’re at today.
AI is not going to make you redundant – yet!
One of the biggest concerns about AI is that it will make humans redundant. After all, if our jobs require analyzing and interpreting information and using it to make decisions, it’s very probable that machines can now do it at least as accurately, and certainly much faster, than we can!
The truth, though, is that while some AI systems are good at some jobs, AI, in general, isn’t quite good enough just yet to fully replicate the entire skillsets needed to do most work. Self-driving vehicles haven’t been completely cracked yet – despite billions in investment and numerous companies getting to the trial stage, we aren’t yet at the point where bus or taxi drivers are in danger of being immediately replaced. This is even more true for knowledge workers or workers in roles where there is an emphasis on human-to-human interaction, like nursing or teaching.
It's clear that some jobs are being replaced by automation – manual manufacturing work, retail cashiers, and bank clerks, for example, had seen machines take over much of their work, even before AI became as commonplace as it is today. At the same time, however, new jobs are created by the need to design, implement, sell, manage, and oversee technology and AI. Generally, these tend to be higher-paying, safer, more comfortable, and more rewarding jobs than those that are replaced.
AI is going to affect your job, business, or industry
Another thing it’s important to understand today is that ignoring the emergence of AI and believing that it won't affect your job, business, or industry is the biggest mistake you could make!
Whatever you do, AI is most likely going to have an impact, and it's crucial for individuals and businesses to think about how it's likely to affect them. Failing to do so means we’re likely to be overtaken by competitors or startups who have been quicker to adapt to the changing world. No one wants to end up the way Blockbuster Video did when Netflix arrived or Kodak after the arrival of digital cameras. Both were businesses that believed that encroaching existential threats to their core business models were simply fads that would blow over. AI is not a fad, and its impact is likely to be much further-reaching than that of streaming video or digital cameras, so we need to start planning for it right now!
Just about anyone can use generative AI to make themselves smarter and more efficient
There are already many ways we can use AI tools and applications to augment and enhance our own work. If we are involved with creating reports or summarizing information, then tools like ChatGPT can help with creating drafts, outlines, and lists of important points. Other generative AI tools are available for creating videos, music, and images, and they can all be used today by anyone working in creative fields or anyone who simply needs to communicate ideas quickly and efficiently. The standard of work they produce is probably not good enough to rely on to create finished pieces of work in many cases, but it can be used to speed up the early stages of ideation, designing, and drafting. It can give us instant answers and advice on just about any topic we might need to consider before we make a decision, manage our schedule, so we don't double-book ourselves or miss important appointments, and vastly speed up day-to-day routine tasks such as sending emails.
Developing ethical and explainable AI is essential
There’s a very simple reason that AI needs to be both ethical and explainable, and it all comes down to trust. AI is powered by data – the more it knows, the more efficiently it works. The most valuable data of all is human data, which tells it about who we are, how we live our lives, and what we need to make us safe, comfortable, healthy, and happy.
If AI has this information, then it has the potential to do amazing things, including helping us solve some of the most pressing problems facing humanity. That could be tackling climate change, treating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, or reducing poverty.
In order for it to be able to do these things, though, people will have to trust it with their data. Many of us aren’t going to be comfortable handing over sensitive information about our health or our habits if we're not sure what's being done with it. This is why the concept of explainable AI is so crucial. We need to know why it makes the decisions it makes and what information it bases them on if we are going to trust it to make important choices that could affect our lives.
On top of that, we need to be sure that the decisions and operations of AI are aligned with our ethical values. It’s been shown that AI can lead to bias and discrimination, particularly where the data that it’s trained on contains bias. This could be due to incomplete datasets or data that’s been collected in a biased manner. Failing to show that problems of ethics and bias are being addressed will lead to further difficulty in building trust between humans and AI, which could potentially limit its usefulness and the positive outcomes that can be achieved.