Sunday May 19, 2024

AI: boon or bane?

By Atta-ur-Rahman
May 10, 2023

There is an international buzz at the amazing capabilities of ChatGPT to write up essays and provide other useful information in a matter of seconds. Its upgraded versionChatGPT4 is even better in performance.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT became the fastest-growing user base with 100 million monthly active users in January 2023 as people all over the world lined up to use the chatbot, which simulates human-like conversations and writes excellent articles after sieving data from the internet almost instantaneously, based on the prompts that it is given.

But there are alarm bells now ringing of an impending disaster to mankind that may be round the corner. Dr Geoffrey Hinton, widely acknowledged as the godfather of artificial intelligence, announced his resignation from Google on May 1, 2023.

In an interview to BBC, pointing out the dangers of the field, he stated that creating systems that rival human intelligence or surpass it could be disastrous for the human race. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate”, he feared. Geoffrey Hinton is not the only person worried about the rapid progress that artificial intelligence is making.

The famous British scientist, Stephen Hawking, had co-signed a letter with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak warning that artificial intelligence posed “profound risks” to humanity. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he had told the BBC in an interview in 2014. A similar warning was issued by the tech giant Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in a letter signed by the two tech leaders, along with thousands of other experts, in March this year that called for an at least six-month pause on building AI systems more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4 chatbot.

Despite these warnings, intensive research and progress in this field goes on, in efforts that many experts fear represent humanity hurtling towards its own annihilation. There are some 50 such AI tools now in the market including Bard AI, Bing AI, DialoGPT, Socratic, Chatsonic, Jasper Chat, LaMDA, and others. Google has been working to upgrade its search engine as well as create a new one that relies on AI; Microsoft has rolled out the “new Bing” search engine which has been described as users’ “AI-powered copilot for the web”.

As AI becomes more sophisticated, it may become difficult to predict how it will behave in certain situations. This could result in unintended and potentially catastrophic outcomes. Another risk of AI is the lack of accountability. AI systems operate on their own, making decisions without human input. This could create a situation where it is difficult to hold anyone responsible for the actions of an AI system.

AI can also be weaponized, which could have disastrous consequences. Autonomous weapons, also known as killer robots, could be programmed to carry out military operations without human input, leading to the loss of innocent lives and widespread destruction. AI could also be misused by malicious actors to create chaos and destruction. Swarm drones have already been manufactured which can attack targets in swarms of a hundred or more and take decisions autonomously to achieve the destruction of their targets. Small drones a few centimetres in size have been developed with facial recognition technologies built-in, to identify targets in crowded environments and fire bullets with accuracy, selectively.

Super intelligent machines will be capable of rapidly improving themselves, leading to an exponential increase in their intelligence. This could lead to a situation where machines become more intelligent than humans and pose a threat to our existence. Another significant danger of AI is the displacement of human jobs. As AI becomes more advanced, it has the potential to replace human workers in a wide range of industries, resulting in massive unemployment and economic disasters.

To address the risks and threats of AI, it is important to ensure that AI systems are developed in a safe and responsible manner. This could involve developing ethical guidelines for AI development and establishing regulatory frameworks to govern the development and deployment of AI systems. International cooperation is also important to address the risks and threats of AI. Countries must work together to establish standards and guidelines for the development and deployment of AI systems.

Having pointed out the risks associated with AI, we must also appreciate that AI has many benefits too. From medicine to finance, from education to transportation, AI has the potential to revolutionize nearly every aspect of our lives. One of the most promising applications of AI is in healthcare. AI has the potential to help doctors and healthcare professionals diagnose diseases more accurately and quickly. AI can also help doctors develop more personalized treatment plans based on a patient’s unique medical history and genetic makeup.

It also has the potential to transform education by providing personalized learning experiences for students. Machine learning algorithms can analyze student data to identify areas of strength and weakness and provide customized learning materials that are tailored to each student’s individual needs. In this connection Khan Academy has launched a personal tutoring system named ‘Khanmigo’ and it is now possible that every student will before long have a personal AI based chatbot to guide him or her to learn according to his own pace and improve the overall academic performance.

AI has the potential to make transportation safer and more efficient. Self-driving cars and trucks can reduce the number of accidents caused by human error and improve traffic flow. Machine learning algorithms can analyze traffic patterns and make real-time adjustments to optimize travel routes and reduce congestion. AI can also help businesses improve their efficiency and productivity by automating repetitive tasks and providing insights into business operations.

A McKinsey Global Report predicted a $15.6 trillion impact of AI by 2025, illustrating the need of giving it the highest national priority. If Pakistan can capture even one per cent of this market, it will contribute a solid $156 billion to its economy! In light of these developments, Pakistan has taken a major lead to establish Centers of Excellence focused on AI in different parts of Pakistan under my supervision. One is under establishment within the Pak Austrian University in Haripur Hazara while another is being established in Pakistan’s premier research institution, the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at the University of Karachi which also happens to be a Unesco Center of Excellence.

A Rs40 billion project has been processed by the IT ministry and its feasibility completed, prior to approval. Huge new opportunities are opening up in this field and Pakistan must aspire to be a world leader because of its huge impact in industry, agriculture, businesses and defence.

The writer is the former federal minister for science and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: