HALF the world is proclaiming artificial intelligence (AI) to be the best thing since sliced bread and the other half is warning of the end of humanity and the destruction of the way of life as we know it.
I exaggerate there a little, but we have seen these sentiments before. We just need a walk down history to see where this will lead.
The period between the 1960s and 70s saw the rise of silicon-based transistors and integrated circuits. And with that, humanity was ushered into the Silicon Age.
The start of the Silicon Age sparked an upheaval. thousands of jobs were made redundant when scaled down mainframes were made available to large corporations. Bookkeeping that used to take floors full of people is now handled by of tens instead of hundreds.
But in the years that followed, new jobs were created that not only adapted to the rise of various types of computing machines, but the new jobs that were created brought with them increases in productivity, opportunity and services that until then were too labour intensive to be viable.
Fast forward to the 1990s and the world witnessed the rise of the Internet and humanity once again had to adapt to a new advancement, and thus the rise of the Internet Age.
As the Internet matured and mobile access became prevalent, whole industries were disrupted and millions of jobs were no longer relevant. Just look at the decimation of the taxi services industry, brick and mortar retail and print publishing industry. Blockbuster LLC, the billion-dollar video rental company, wouldn’t have even in its worst nightmare thought that it would go out of business within less than a decade.
But the Internet Age not only brought millions of new jobs, it changed the nature of jobs themselves and how they are performed. Nomadic freelancers, gig workers and virtual assistants are jobs made possible by advances in the Internet Age. And more recently, the work-from-home trend (wfh) gave workers back hours of quality time which was once soul-deadening commutes.
And we are now at another flashpoint in human history. The last two years have seen a rapid rise in AI technologies and again it has sparked fears that this new technology will decimate the need for human labour and the jobs that require them.
From the early days of the combustion engine when people ran against cars to see who is faster, society eventually came to the realisation that we are not meant to compete against the machine or technology of the day, but instead to use it to strengthen or augment us.
Dare I say, we are at the dawn of the Age of Augmented Intelligence where AI is our new lever. Where engines once augmented our physical abilities, AI shall do the same for our mind and intellect. Combined with augmented reality (AR) displays, it will enhance our skill sets, our ability to perform tasks and to learn.
Imagine looking inside the engine bay of a car and being told what is broken and guided on how to fix it and presented with the option to buy the parts. Imagine a doctor looking at a patient and shown possible diagnosis, treatment plans and the ability to dig deeper into the patient histor y and cross-reference with similar anonymised cases. Saving in time means a professional can attend to more people within the same period with better quality of service.
The current crop of AI tools is already helping people to vet contracts, reduce parking fines and create videos. The next generation of these tools will help during corporate negotiations and write the contractual terms, talk to customer service for refunds while checking relevant regulations or design a multi-medium media campaign and then book suitable talents.
Although the danger of unregulated AI growth is a valid concern, the AI models we have now, impressive as they might seem, are nothing but more efficient tools. And as history has shown again and again, the winner of this era will be those who can best take advantage of the cutting-edge tools of the day.
- Rashdan Ramlee is the former president of New Entrepreneur’s Forum, an association dedicated to assisting IT talents and Bumiputera start-ups, and CEO of Aegis Associates, a fintech advisory and blockchain solutions development firm.