Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an increasingly controversial topic. This term often refers to when machines are ‘taught’ to understand concepts and implement actions accordingly. In computer science, AI is also known as ‘Intelligent Agent’. Programmed algorithms allow a maximum chance of success in attaining a certain goal.

In this advanced technological era, novel inventions have inevitably boosted new directions for innovation, and efficiency. However, knowing the formidable power of AI, it is worth pondering some potential unintended consequences, such as the distribution of wealth (or income) as well as cybersecurity issues.

One of the pioneers of advanced automation techniques is Elon Musk from Tesla. Recently, the introduction of self-driving cars has excited many tech fans. This breakthrough implies the possibility of a futuristic self-driving city! Not only does this idea promote efficiency, but it also is a seemingly ethical approach, where the number of expected car accidents is greatly reduced. This example shows that when risks are proven to be lower, it can indeed be a desirable development to many societies.

Moreover, when this concept of automation is applied to other aspects of life, many laborious tasks can be taken care of by AI. In other words, former drivers would have to search for new means of livelihood. Optimists would appreciate this notion, thinking that more leisure time can then be available, enhancing the non-material living standards of many. For instance, instead of spending long hours at work, more time is present for individuals to engage with the surrounding community, or even to draw families closer.

Some may even argue that the current economy focuses too much on generating income to sustain one’s living, and it is almost a ‘barbaric’ act to constantly trade times of loving interaction for even more amounts of a currency. I personally agree that accumulating wealth should not be the ultimate goal in life, yet the way the society is constructed does incentivise the workforce to push their limits and ultimately strive for greater ‘excellence’ in a macro-scale. Therefore, both advantages and disadvantages of automation exist.

When robots can replace increasingly many tasks, many skills that humans possess will become obsolete. A decrease in job opportunities may follow, leading to unemployment, especially for the labourer who is accustomed to performing physical tasks e.g. cleaning. If this trend continues, it will not be surprising to hear that owners of tech start-ups as well as large corporations like Google and Amazon would generate the greatest earnings. Many little changes in employment structure due to automation would eventually pave the way for an uneven distribution of income.

The current wealth gap is already fairly high in many countries. For example, research shows that when comparing the number of workers in Detroit and Silicon Valley, it is shocking to realise that Silicon Valley has 10 times less labour, yet its net income is the same. This suggests that some families are already struggling to get out of in-work poverty, while rich families and organisations continue to become richer. Without controls, the rise of AI would only fuel and intensify this situation. Hence I do not believe that tech companies should be allowed to over-dominate, and so detailed regulations must be present before further utilisation is allowed.

One the other hand, due to the fact that robots have the capacity to swiftly process new information and exploit any identified weaknesses, the value of AI is almost limitless. This can lead to fear, because detrimental effects are bound to occur. Armed drones are already widely present, threatening the lives of many, and they collectively may even lead to a war. It is of paramount importance to emphasise on the fact that any AI-related arms race must be banned, as any sort of weapon development is damaging to the well-being of humankind.

Internationally respected organisations such as the United Nations, should take the initiative to liaise with all countries, ensuring potential intimidations are avoided. But it would be extremely difficult to enforce this ban, as it is almost impossible to monitor the scientific progress of all countries, considering the fact that most societies are capitalist, and by principle, would be reluctant to share their technology with the rest of the world, as such specialised knowledge is a valuable asset to them. Even if cameras were to be installed to monitor global technological progress, many loopholes will exist. Espionage, hacking into foreign systems and machinical errors are uncontrollable factors, to name a few. Therefore, cybersecurity is another major aspect involved.

On balance, as long as AI is used for universal benefit, it is considered as a desirable discovery. When looking into new fields to incorporate AI, the well-being of various stakeholders should be respected and prioritised. International discussions and mutually agreed conclusions, along with detailed paperwork outlining its associated regulations must occur before major implementations take place. It would be ideal if a governing body were established, to oversee these changes. But any conflicts of interests related to board members must be thoroughly addressed at the first place.

The scope of AI is immense and ever-changing, causing the anticipation of many more sophisticated issues in the future. However, the world would still be able to operate well and smoothly without those developments, so more pressing problems should perhaps be dealt with first. While it is worth waiting for more opinions on the complex manipulation of robotics, we must be wary that investors are in a hurry to develop and so profit from such advancements.

For now, the rise of automation and AI can encourage us all to value moments spent with our dearest ones. In addition, the appreciation of multiple roles and tasks, which can only be performed by warm-hearted humans, is heightened. This is because the empathetic and loving nature of human beings is unique and irreplaceable by robots, at least for now.

About The Author

Janice Lam is a penultimate year student at UCL, studying Bioprocessing of New Medicines (Business and Management). She has been an international student from Hong Kong for 6 years, and is currently based in London. During term time, she works as a language consultant at What3Words and interns at Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office. With interests in writing and communications, she undertook internships in PR and MarCom in Hong Kong and Shanghai respectively.