Artificial Intelligence, what impact does it have on our society?

Jérôme Berthier Head of Artificial Intelligence and Business Intelligence, Head of Innovation Lab at ELCA

29.11.2018

Set between an a priori proposition and conspiracy theories, artificial intelligence is taking centre stage more than ever before. In his role as Head of the Innovation Lab and Head of Artificial Intelligence at ELCA, Jérôme Berthier offers us his expert vision on the subject.

by Jérôme Berthier
Head of Artificial Intelligence and Business Intelligence, Head of Innovation Lab at ELCA

Artificial Intelligence is talked about everywhere with varying degrees of understanding as a result of which it appears either as the root of all evil or as the target for unfounded accusations. In any event, objectively speaking it is true that AI has and will continue to have an impact on our society in terms of employment, the economy, ecology, education etc. In order to understand what impact it will have, it is important to have a shared vision of AI.

Do not confuse Weak AI and Strong AI
The majority of "urban myths" surrounding AI mainly spring from confusion between Weak AI and Strong AI in the minds of the public at large. Weak AI is the automation and simplification of our day-to-day tasks whereas Strong AI represents fear or sublimation felt by certain people about the possibility that a robot will develop its own self-awareness or feelings. If Weak AI is currently already in use, Strong AI remains only a fantasy. The foremost experts in neuroscience are in agreement when they declare that we know virtually nothing about the function of the human brain; so, from that position to be equal to it, surpass it and reach "singularity" ...On the other hand, Weak AI has already gained a place in our daily lives for some time without us realising (anti-Spam for example). It finds its origins in the early 1950s (the Turing Test), and the first NLP (
Natural Language Processing)  models date from 1970. It was not until the hardware technology explosion delivered huge increases in storage capacity, processing power and miniaturisation that such technology could be integrated into everyday items to generate digital data. For even though Machine Learning algorithms are becoming ever-more powerful, they are very greedy and consume huge amounts of data. Nowadays, we talk more and more about AI since the technology is readily in use all around us with the arrival of Chatbots, self-drive vehicles etc. But what impact does all this have on our society?

The fear of AI

The greatest fear surrounding wide scale automation of our functionalities is, without doubt, its impact on employment. This justifiable fear is felt across all socio-professional categories. Self-drive vehicles will impact all those working as drivers (delivery drivers, taxi drivers, ...) while Chatbots will affect those working in call centres, self-service supermarkets (such as Amazon), cashiers, image recognition employees, radiologists etc. But at the same time, the demand for IT expertise has never been higher and there is a veritable shortage of IT experts. All the same, we should remember that, just as during the Industrial Revolution, the changes to working practices brought about by this data revolution will not be as easy and immediate and some people will fall by the wayside; all of which demands a common awareness in order to avoid this phenomenon without delay. In fact, the advent of AI does not destroy jobs but rather addresses a lack of service coverage: call centres overwhelmed, unable to handle huge numbers of calls; 24/7 service coverage which is too expensive to fund; problems arriving at service desks and taking far too long to resolve etc. In addition, while data is not fully complete and technological advances have not yet reached their full potential, it remains impossible to do without human intervention. Let us take advantage of the time we have in order to kick start the inevitable process of changing our working practices. Another fear we have is the epidemic of surveillance, made possible by universal connectivity, cyber-attacks and abuse of personal data. Again, we are taking the first faltering steps and initiatives, even controversial ones like GDPR, will increase user-awareness since governments cannot manage the problem by themselves. Users must be aware of the impact of their behaviour on social networks and websites etc.

In conclusion, we cannot ignore the fact that AI is going to turn our daily lives upside down with far-reaching change. But I do not believe in the disaster scenarios put about by its detractors in which AI takes over the role of mankind even to the extent of eradicating him. Let us learn to master this new technology rather than living in fear of it because researchers, IT specialists and mathematicians etc. have no interest in recreating a human being. They do, however, have a free hand to create something else, something complementary, which would allow humanity to evolve and create a new world, a more transparent, deferential and safer one...

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