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Cutting-edge AI: A friend or foe?

Key elements of AI include NLP, expert systems, robotics, intelligent agents, computational intelligence and artificial general intelligence

Cutting-edge AI: A friend or foe?

In human civilization, human beings are always in search of an alternative, which can work at least like them. In this quest, humans seem to be getting more than what they bargained for, thanks to recent advancements in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). When it comes to mastering languages and playing chess, for example, AI has already surpassed humans, indicating that AI can display its boundless capacity across diverse sectors. According to the famous author and historian Yuval Noah Harari, AI is associated with the future of humanity. In his words, there are at least two milestones in the development of AI. First is the capacity of the machine to identify and respond to the feelings and emotions of human beings. Another is the ability to navigate and operate safely in a real-world scenario.

According to John McCarthy, AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines that can perform tasks that are characteristics of human intelligence. The intelligent systems could be in the form of software, hardware or a combination of both. We notice some overlap between AI and information technology basically in terms of the use of computer technology. Actually, AI is more focused on creating intelligent systems that can be operated autonomously and make decisions, while IT is concerned with the infrastructure and systems used to manage and process data. 

Recent trends in AI

The key elements of AI include Natural Language Processing (NLP), expert systems, robotics, intelligent agents, computational intelligence and artificial general intelligence, etc. In recent years, many advancements have been made in each of these elements. Areas of AI application range from features in social media and smartphones to image and speech recognition, use of robotics in customer service, recommendation engines for effective strategies, stock trading and useful products like generative AI. ChatGpt, chatBot, Google Gemini are few widely-used generative AI tools, which have already evolved into new generations with multiple capabilities. 

Paradigm shift is seen in AI quantum computing. AI humans like robots are interesting aspects as they can read human expressions and emotions, a capability that can be used to perform repetitive chores, especially in customer care and factories. The right tracking of use of AI is the accountability of humans. If AI goes out of human control, there is a risk of developing a supposed friend into an alien.

Talking about recent advancements in AI, we should at least recall web development and its commercial use since the 2000s. Another remarkable event is of late 2017 when an AI program named Alpha zero developed by Google defeated the most powerful chess program, indicating that AI is surpassing human capability. Simulation of intelligence in machines is another development in AI. Virtual reality and augmented reality creating simulated environments are also crucial achievements in the sector. 

Emotionally-intelligent AI are able to detect micro expressions in face and support customer care. Autonomous AI systems are known for multitasking such as driverless vehicle operation along crowded roads. Microsoft’s Open AI is known for speech and image recognition. ChatGpt introduced in Nov 2022 is regarded as a turning point in AI use.  According to Geoffrey Hinton, ‘godfather’ of AI, machines may walk over the humans who make them in the near future.

Quality education

Inequality vis-a-vis access to modern information and communication technology is best described as the digital divide. Once we make countrywide coverage of internet services, there will be easy availability of access to AI tools through apps, most of which are free of cost. Personalized AI education systems are supposed to be adaptive and effective in addressing learning gaps followed by performance analysis. Hopefully, the quality of education will go up with the introduction of AI tools in the near future.

AI-enhanced healthcare

The time taken for x-ray reports has diminished from more than a week to just one minute, thanks to AI. Diagnostics of critical diseases has been made easier using AI supported programs. For example, cure.AI is an Indian company providing its service to more than 700 hospitals. In Nepal, telemedicine is already in use and there is a possibility of using AI-enhanced healthcare through well-equipped focal hospitals. AI-enhanced tools are useful not only for disease detection but also for personalized medication. But provisions for data security and privacy protection are absolutely necessary as the use of this technology becomes widespread.  

AI and economy

We can recall the use of Sophia, a humanoid female robot at a Sustainable Development Goals-related program that UNDP had organized in Kathmandu in March, 2018. It is increasingly believed that AI will transform the global economy in the coming years. But we have to start making preparations by anticipating this transformation. Recently, the International Monetary Fund warned that AI may hit almost 40 percent of jobs and cause a new kind of inequality in the world. Historically, machines and computers ate up a large number of jobs in their massive use stage and there’s every possibility that a massive use of AI tools will yield more severe results. 

Also, AI is supposed to be useful in mitigating impacts of climate change, waste management and efficient use of energy. Generative AI, for example, has the potential to automate many tasks and eventually boost global economic growth. Goldman Sachs Research forecasts that AI will start having a remarkable impact on US GDP from 2027 and begin affecting growth in other economies around the world in the years that follow.

Impact on society

With a fast-changing capacity of AI and its widespread use, human beings are gradually being AI-enhanced. At the initial stage, skepticism prevails everywhere. We need a set of policies to safely leverage the vast potential of AI for the benefit of humanity. The features and provisions in the AI tools should honor the basic tenets of democracy like freedom of expression, transparency, accountability, rule of law, human rights and concerns of marginalized sections of the society. Novel threats demand novel approaches to deal with and AI is no exception. One study conducted by analyzing the views of 2800 authors throughout the globe revealed that the evolution of AI tools and techniques has been remarkably faster than projected.

AI and governance

It’s clear that AI governance and governance through AI have different scopes. The trend has shifted to the latter these days. In this context, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Nepal recently prepared a preliminary conceptual note on the use of AI in the country. It is working with experts to give this document a final shape. Now is the right time for the National Planning Commission to pay attention to policy and programs related to governance through AI for inclusion in the upcoming periodic plan as well as the annual budget. AI should be a priority agenda for our government also, at least for learning and adaptation. 

Grave concern

Global initiatives are important to create a forum for discussions on AI issues. For example, there may be a need for a treaty to ban the use of military robot, check the random use of data algorithms, especially during general elections. We need to use AI more for increasing production and simplifying public service delivery. 

With its rapid increase in application, AI regulation is the area every government needs to give attention to. Since the public sector of the third world has every chance to lack AI experts, there should be a policy guiding capacity development of government officials vis-a-vis AI, followed by general regulation for the best use of AI in Nepal and encouragement for tech companies working in the field of AI. 

Let me wrap up this piece with a note of caution: AI in the hands of bad actors will be a matter of great concern. 

The author is a joint secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology