The Singularity in artificial intelligence (AI) is the inflection point where machines advance beyond human intelligence and thus become self-sufficient. Jon von Neumann first defined the term in the 1950s and it has been further advanced by well-known futurist and technologist Ray Kurzweil.
The idea is that the global effort to build AI is likely to result in the Singularity at some point with Kurzweil, in fact, predicting it will happen by 2045. This will be a critical transition point where humans will no longer control the evolution of AI and robotics. The machines will self-develop, learn to self-improve, and succeeding technological iterations are likely to be significantly superior and arguably changing at a rate that is beyond our full human understanding.
Artificial intelligence has received renewed interest due to the many innovations being introduced to the market, supported by increasingly transparent development and the collaborative efforts of individual data science teams, technology companies and institutions. Such innovations can learn and become more efficient without human intervention. The principal goal is to develop systems that can learn from experience with the human-like breadth and surpass human performance in some cognitive tasks, thereby having a significant impact on business and society. The goal today is to improve the lives of humans and our world in general.
From a business intelligence understanding, the advent of AI as a means to process Big Data is significant. Disciplines such as marketing face major, positive disruption through the use of AI techniques to learn, model, and predict human and market behaviors. The explosion of data is facilitated in part by sensors that produce ambient intelligence, along with autonomous speech and facial recognition, intelligent environments, and motion capture. Examples of these technologies are Google’s DeepMind and IBM’s Watson. All these technological innovations are attempts to build machines that “think” similar to humans.
Here are some of the points to illustrate this exponential technologic progress:
Our computer systems have been integrating data, technology, and human experience for some time. We have seen considerable advances in areas like the health sciences, genetics, task automation, job, and gene editing, and military capability just to name a few. Our current systems are already leading us towards the Singularity. Today’s computers are not just capable of providing answers in real time, they can predict what we are yet to ask based on data collected around us. Indeed, we are living this symbiotic life together with our intelligent devices. We have products such as the smartphones that are always with us and voice-enabled technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri that uses a fundamental form of machine learning. Our cars are getting smarter with lane assist, collision detection and much more coming and leading us to fully automated self-driving and self-learning cars.
The objective impact of AI on society is a key concern when working with the Singularity; the notion of mass displacement of workers, some of whom will be rendered irrelevant and seen as less productive in comparison with AI-enabled machine workers. It is also important to mention that there is some anxiety concerning the consequences of unchecked development in AI: will systems work to advance and preserve society or will they eventually serve as an existential threat to the globe and its inhabitants? How will security, ethics, and privacy be protected given the automation of Big Data and Deep Learning? Finally, who is ultimately formally responsible for the actions of automated systems and services, e.g., self-driving cars? Such questions will likely remain unanswered for some years.
Presently, we know that automation continues to have an effect on society, even at this beginning stage of development in AI. Due to their superior cognitive, mathematical and data processing capabilities, intelligent systems and even robots are already replacing workers in the areas of medicine, manufacturing, stock trading, insurance, banking, and more. IBM’s Watson, for example, is being deployed in major hospitals around the world to help doctors better diagnose patients. Also, a Japanese medical insurance company has recently reduced its workforce in favor of AI-capable systems that not only bring together information about clients in seconds but also detect past payouts, fraud and many other nuanced details with a very high degree of accuracy. Hedge funds are also starting to replace traders and financial advisers with systems capable of processing and learning from Big Data, and they can also offer superior investment recommendations when compared to their human counterparts. Robotic manufacturing is advancing exponentially and is more likely to drive significant social pressures in some countries shortly.
There’s no doubt that Artificial Intelligence will usher in a new era of technological advantages for society and business. Productivity is expected to rise, and the society will become the beneficiary of a much higher standard of living as a result of the socio-economic advantages created by highly intelligent machines. These machines will likely be more productive, reliable, and efficient regarding performing cognitive tasks and many other types of work, e.g., production and manufacturing, compared to human workers.
It should be noted that it is expected humans will likely retain the advantage regarding interpersonal, emotional, creative, and other high-level aspects of thinking and production. These machines will likely carry out tasks in a very non-emotive fashion without gaining any value from the actual experience as a human would. Some though believe that machines may even catch up in these areas by simply mimicking creativity and being able to observe emotions as they evolve in the process of self-improvement and self-learning.
Al of this advancement is likely to bring enormous pressure on the shoulders of governments around the world, even well before the point of the Singularity. There will be a need to shift the focus of education, and potentially the entire notion of a career will change. Some feel that it is important to have a centralized governing body which lays down the framework for prioritizing the positive outcomes of Artificial Intelligence.
With all this change, societies will have to invest in retraining large numbers of people in areas where they can be more valuable and effective than artificial intelligence, e.g., roles requiring emotional intelligence and social work. In anticipation for widespread job displacement, some countries have begun experimenting with the concept of a universal basic income for individuals and families as a way to maintain a basic standard of living.
The potential risks of AI – and ultimately the Singularity – involve concepts that were once restricted to the realm of science fiction previously – that machines will automatically turn against us.
Cybersecurity is another main concern with regards to artificial intelligence – it’s both good and bad. From a defense point of view, machine learning provides significant advantages in the detection of intrusions and in maintaining security. On the other hand, AI-based cyberattacks may be extremely effective, though it is thought that the advantage lies in defense. Furthermore, as artificial intelligence develops, it will most certainly be used for cybercrime, and cyber-sabotage could be directed at critical infrastructure. Threats such as this serve as a reason to pursue effective defense research as a critical goal.
Even with all these concerns, interest is steadily increasing, and investment is now focused on developing new artificial intelligence technologies that enhance the human experience thus making people healthier, happier, more high-performing, and more intelligent. This short-term gain could become our long-term doom if we aren’t careful. Advancing the capabilities of artificial intelligence can lead to an increased potential for negative impact on human society.