Is Artificial Intelligence a friend or foe?


I remember the first day when my son brought home his dream robot assistant Alexa. In fact it was a parting gift from his former company. Being an engineer he sat for a week to set the backend coding of Alexa to suit his requirements. Lo and behold, everything in his room was controlled by Alexa on his command- lights, fans, taps, coffee maker, music, news etc. This was astounding for us and he was proud !

But the point is, are we ready for artificial intelligence (AI)?  Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) a friend or foe? To me it looked like a very disturbing convenience attachment and as AI becomes increasingly embedded in our society, it will change how we work and live. If we look around, much like this, artificial intelligence, machine learning (AI, ML) and robotics technologies are silently but increasingly automating work tasks. Some of it is already in use.

Email comes with filters and smart replies; maps and ride sharing apps use AI in route planning and pricing; online retailers use AI to understand your preferences and buying habits so they personalize your shopping experience. Music streaming sites provide AI-curated personalized playlists, and the 24-hour customer helpdesks to motor navigations, ticketing for any purpose is backend algorithm based and so on. The entire E commerce industry is totally dependent on AI platforms except the last mile delivery.

There is no doubt AI will transform society but there is a big need to safeguard against improper use. Putting fears to rest tech guru Sebastian Thrun, CEO, Kitty Hawk Corp and co-founder Udacity said, “AI is not made to replace people, but augment people. Much like mobile phones have done for us”. Most people, fearing job losses to AI and machines will be quick to say AI is the enemy, something to worry about as it will take away jobs and machines will take over the world. Sure, AI will make us efficient, but fears of job losses are genuine. It will surely replace maybe menial jobs but produce many more for the tech field. Very much like what computers or mobiles did.

Besides the productivity and efficiency advantages, AI brings in, there is also the moral dimension of machines smart enough to make decisions. Machine learning algorithms are building personality profiles on every human being. AI algorithms can learn your behavior, and before you know it, they know you better than you know yourself. This is a dominant player in disruptive technology.

In a developing country like India, most people, fearing job losses to AI and machines will be quick to say AI is the enemy, something to worry about as it will take away jobs and machines will take over the world. AI is picking up patterns—be it driving cars, detecting cancers or selling products – and helping novices get better, reemphasizes Thrun. In one of India’s mega event of spiritual gathering in Prayag, Uttar Pradesh which ends on 21st March after a month, a million visitors a day and over half a million staying it was clear that AI has played an important role in maintaining security, discipline, admin efficiency, peace and threat perceptions. But obviously AI driven drones are omnipresent.

All this is surely a subject of a much larger debate where on one hand AI is much needed for progress and on the other side it can play havoc if in wrong hands! In any case it’s now time to get adjusted to this disruptive game changer.

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