Internet of things (IoT) technology has been advancing at a great rate over the past year. It has been estimated that by 2020, there will be approximately 50 billion connected devices, the majority of which can send and receive data all without the need for any intervention from humans. These smart devices will vary from in-house goods such as smart washing machines and fridges through to cars which, with the help of smart sensors, should even be able to park your car for you.
There are many who believe that IoT technology will go even further than we can imagine and that devices will, as Tim O’Reilly, coiner of the phrase “Web 2.0” states, start “to anticipate us in all sorts of ways”. In this way IoT technology very much leads us into the path of artificial intelligence.
The development of artificial intelligence
The dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) have long been discussed, whether by friends having a drink together in the pub or by some of the world’s greatest minds, such as Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates or Elon Musk.
Hawking is on record stating that developing AI to the full extent could well “spell the end of the human race”. Now, when a statement like that comes from the world’s foremost physicist, people should surely sit up and pay attention?
Hawking is not the only one to voice concern when it comes to AI; indeed PayPal tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, has made his views on the subject clear, stating that AI is our “biggest existential threat”. He even goes as far as to say that mucking around too much with AI would be like summoning demons…!
You would think that Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, would be on the side of developing AI to the full extent, however, even Gates admits to being “concerned” about AI developing so far that it puts machines beyond human control.
Why are people afraid of artificial intelligence?
When we refer to AI, we generally mean a computer system of some kind that is able to simulate human behaviour and/ or react appropriately. This includes everything from voice recognition and visual perception to decision making and even translation of different languages.
There are already a number of live AI examples where a computer system has ‘learnt’, copied and then bested a human, from Garry Kasparov, a chess champion, being beaten at chess by Deep Blue to IBM’s Watson beating Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, both champions of the game Jeopardy, multiple times.
There are also numerous examples of computer systems developing super intelligence in film and literature. For instance in the film ‘Her’ the main character innocently enough falls in love with his operating system and iRobot, where the main operating system, VIKI, comes to the conclusion that humans are a threat to their own existence so sets out to strip humans of their free will.
Both of the above examples can be terrifying in their own right, precisely because AI involves the machines making decisions on their own, with no human involvement or control. The thought of a machine being able to reprogram itself or take action that humans might not want it to is where things become extremely scary!
Do we need to be scared of AI?
For every person that says we need to be concerned about how far AI development goes, there is another who is a lot more positive about it. The founding editor of Wired Magazine, Kevin Kelly, prefers to think of AI in terms of a friendly, useful service. He relates AI to a service such as that provided by Amazon rather than a computer system we should be in fear of.
Kelly states that people should look upon AI in the same way that we do electricity. Electricity scared people at first but look at how much it has revolutionised the world and benefitted us in our daily lives. He believes AI will be the same, helping people function and helping businesses deliver better and better results. To combat the concerns people have about computers developing true consciousness, he states: “As AI develops, we might have to engineer ways to prevent consciousness in them – our most premium AI services will be advertised as consciousness-free.”
What happens when IoT connects with AI?
Quite rightly, people are now starting to question what will happen when our IoT devices connect to AI computer systems. Questions such as “will the computer systems use our IoT devices in a hostile manner?” and “do we need to be concerned about connecting the two technologies?” are coming up more and more. The issue causing most concern seems to be around the idea of machines having consciousness.
As humans we are aware that we have consciousness but thus far, even the greatest minds haven’t been able to explain what it is exactly or how we come to have it. The problem we have is that because there is no firm definition about what consciousness actually is, we can’t determine how far machines might be able to go in developing it. It is this unknown that scares us.
The notion that anything can have consciousness “providing the information it contains is sufficiently interconnected and organised” has been put forward by a number of scientists and philosophers. If we accept this notion, we could well be accepting that our smart phones, thermostats and even the internet as a whole could possess consciousness. We are, in a sense, providing our AI and IoT systems and devices with all the information and connectivity they need to make a ‘conscious’ decision.
There is no doubt that we are on the edge of a big break as far as AI and IoT technologies are concerned and who knows, these break throughs may also help us further develop our knowledge of consciousness. Should we, therefore, be alarmed at the thought of AI continuing to evolve?
If AI’s continued evolvement can be controlled, as Kevin Kelly states, and we can find a solution to the concerns regarding privacy and security issues when AI systems are connected to IoT devices, then surely AI’s evolvement should create a buzz of excitement, not fear.