From the steam engine and automobile to electricity and the computer, dramatic paradigm shifts in society have coincided with monumental leaps in technology. Many predict the next leap will be artificial intelligence.
Up until now, almost all scientific breakthroughs have made the world a better place in the long run. Innovation is to improve quality of life, and people continue to work toward new innovations in the hopes of improving quality of life. Today, scientists have hit a crossroads where they have lost vision of the sole reason for scientific development. Although it is hard to believe in a time of sustained economic growth and record-low unemployment, artificial intelligence has a strong possibility of disrupting our current way of life. The problem is not whether artificial intelligence is scientifically possible, but why scientists are trying to perfect artificial intelligence in the first place.
Many have a false conception that job loss from artificial intelligence is limited to repetitive manufacturing jobs. According to a recent survey by 352 artificial intelligence experts, artificial intelligence will be able to do just about any job a human can within the next 40 years. Software and computers will evolve to the point where jobs in business, engineering and medicine will be performed by computing technology. Google has announced it has already programmed robots to write poetry.
Scientists have proved the point that they can artificially create a machine as intelligent as a human. But beyond the mere knowledge of knowing scientists are capable of creating such machines, society gains very little relative to the negative consequences that will come from artificial intelligence.
As a result of further automation, companies can save money and consumer products will be cheaper, but these minute advantages are irrelevant if people create a world where society can function without humans playing a leading role. From predicting what the future may hold when people no longer have to work, some economists have even promoted the idea of a universal income, where everyone receives a base salary. In fact, Finland is currently undergoing a two-year experiment of having a universal basic income.
In the frenzy and complexity of artificially intelligent technology, people have avoided questioning the real purpose of artificial intelligence. Society would be heading in the wrong direction if most of the population no longer needed to work, losing the main purpose of an individual’s role in society since the beginning of modern civilization. Economists can begin arguing on how to best supply income to a world without work, but economists would be more helpful in explaining why society would even want a world without employment being commonplace. Furthermore, I’m not necessarily sure people need poetry and best-selling novels written by robots. Increasing computing technology may have once increased quality of life, but developments in artificial intelligence are moving away from societal benefits and instead toward permanent drawbacks that emerge from scientific achievement.
Avoiding the development of artificial intelligence may seem as avoiding progress, but there are other problems the world’s top minds can focus on: disease, poverty and maybe even hunger. In his book “The Industries of the Future,” former Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross argues we were promised decades ago that the world today would be cured of disease and filled with flying cars. Instead, innovators have created watches that count footsteps and phones that speak back. Scientists should focus first on the most pressing problems that face society and then decide how to scientifically approach effective solutions.
Technological development can improve quality of life. However, scientists are pushing society down the wrong track. The world should not avoid technology and development, but scientists and innovators must keep quality of life as the top priority when pushing the limits of what’s possible.
Joshua Udvardy is a UF environmental engineer junior. His column focuses on science.