Artificial intelligence: A path to be trodden carefully

Published November 24, 2020, 6:00 AM

by Edwin V. Fernandez

Artificial Intelligence is the current fashionable buzzword to proclaim progress.  This article has been written as a cautionary tale that a technological breakthrough such as this is to be treated very cautiously.

At base, it seeks to increasingly repose upon computers or machines decisions that humans have up, to the computer age,  made using their own faculties, principally, their brains. This is a long term threat to the human race as it will create a new “poor” class; that is, those less endowed with intellectual capabilities. There is even the long term danger that those whose mental capabilities are lesser developed may report to machines, whose capabilities for massive data analysis and decision-making arising from the evaluation of these massive data bases are faster than most average human capacities.

But I caution those who trumpet that the age of artificial intelligence will be the dawn of a new technological revolution that this is a double-edged sword. Artificial Intelligence was behind the disastrous crashes of two Boeing 737 Max airliners, resulting in the death of more than 600 persons in Indonesia and in Ethiopia. In these incidents, the machine, controlled by a faulty program, took over the controls of the airliners, overrode the commands and controls of the pilots and crashed the airplanes. Then again, in the 1980’s, a state of the art US Navy Arleigh Burke cruiser launched an anti-aircraft missile on an Iranian airliner and shot it down causing the death of all the passengers therein. It appears that the computer decided that the airliner was a threat, given the algorithms stores in its computerized battle management center, and automatically launched the fatal missile.

At a recent symposium organized by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX),  a key speaker, Mr. Elzar Simon, expounded on the state and current functions of artificial intelligence in computerized trading. The talk was well prepared and erudite and caused a lot of interest, and even excitement. To me however, it caused a wave of anxiety to know that billions upon billions of transactions in the capital markets globally are decided and executed by computers. As the speaker elucidated, computers are programmed to buy and sell capital markets instruments based on programs and algorithms built into the machines.

This, to me is a terrifying prospect, especially if the programs and algorithms are based on forecasts which may be prone to weaknesses such as those built into the ill-fated Boeing 737s. if such is the case, a computer glitch can crash and disable markets, especially if the glitches are caused by potential hackers and ransomware criminals.

The proponents of artificial intelligence swoon over the dawn of driverless cars, traffic completely managed by machines and perhaps one day, the introduction of pilotless airplanes. Today, there is a developing application of artificial intelligence for medical science and the legal profession. There have been reports that indicate that robot doctors have a higher degree of correct diagnoses of diseases than human doctors. Perhaps, and some are in glee over this, it is the legal profession that stands to lose by the application of artificial intelligence. After all, the robot lawyer can easily access the volumes upon volumes of enacted laws, precedent cases and help formulate a legal strategy. The chief advantage of the robot lawyer, however, is that he is likely to come cheaper than the human one and is sure to have legal recommendations using the computer’s access and capability for memory to all legal documents and decided cases than the average human lawyer.

The eminent scientist and thinker, Stephen Hawking warned against the unrestricted and uncontrolled application saying that the risks of unrestricted use of artificial intelligence would lead to the deterioration of our mental faculties. The signs are there. The children of today and many adults cannot perform basic mathematical operations without the aid of calculators. The wisdom, philosophy and rational bases of the functions of addition, multiplication, subtraction and division are now stored in the machine rather than in our brains. Today’s children are more likely to fill their brains and time with computer games, without understanding the tools that went into the construction of these pastimes.

The fascination with computers, computer games and social media has created a generation of people –totally dependent upon their computers and similar gadgets that have been the subject of warning by deep thinkers: that a generation of children will have abdicated their mental faculties to the computer. Even more ominous is the warning that was the subject of the Terminator movies:   One day machines will realize that humans, being frail and fallible are the problem and that machines, having superior analyzing capabilities, should dominate and get rid of the problem.

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