What does the future hold for artificial intelligence (AI)? Will machines, at some point, evolve into truly sentient beings capable of philosophical thinking and solving complex problems? Or is this just a pipe dream, like cold fusion that is still 40 years away?
Will the years ahead be just like the way “The Terminator” or “The Matrix” series depicted? Will super-intelligent machines subjugate humanity? Or will it be as in “Star Wars” where robots and machines work side-by-side with humankind to build fascinating worlds beyond the stars?
It’s fun, and sometimes frightening, to speculate where AI will take us. The exercise may even be futile, given the unpredictable twists and turns the technology is taking. But the idea of advanced AI prevailing is too tempting to be ignored. So, let’s explore what the oncoming years will be like between AI and the human race.
The Experts Weigh In
Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma predicts rosy prospects for AI. He says, “I think AI is going to open a new chapter of the society of the world that people try to understand ourselves better, rather than the outside world.” He adds, “I don’t think AI is something terrible.” Ma believes, as do many others, that humanity will always find a way to shine through whatever the situation. And that is reason enough to hold out hope for a bright and exciting future.
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, on the other hand, has a more pragmatic take. He says, “The rate of change of technology is incredibly fast. It is outpacing our ability to understand it. Is that good or bad? I don’t know.” Musk believes that AI is growing at an astounding pace. And that it will inevitably reach a point where its complexity will exceed our comprehension.
In fact, researchers at the University of Oxford surveyed hundreds of AI experts to predict when intelligent machines will completely overtake humans at performing specific tasks. The results showed that AI would be better than humans at tasks like translating languages, driving vehicles, and writing high-school-level essays within the next 10 years.
More complex tasks, like writing a bestselling book, attending to retail customers, and performing surgeries, will take somewhat longer than 10 years. The same specialists predict that AI will outperform humans at virtually all tasks within the next 45 years. They could be wrong, of course. After all, they also believed back in 2015 that AI would beat humans at the strategic board game “Go” by 2027. A Google subsidiary accomplished this feat in 2017, 10 years ahead of the prediction.
Interestingly, the survey results also revealed another noteworthy take. AI researchers from Asia were more optimistic about when AI would outperform humans, citing that this milestone would take place within the next 30 years. North American researchers, on the other hand, were more conservative, believing it would take more than twice as long for machines to become better than people at performing tasks. This, surprisingly, reflects the positions taken by Jack Ma and Elon Musk.
What is certain is that AI will continue to be a star in the tech arena for a few more years, as discoveries, new applications, and priorities propel it forward. If the experts are right, and artificial intelligence beats humans at every task before this century is over, then we can expect dramatic, if not tumultuous, changes in business, industries, and the society itself.
If, as Elon Musk predicts, AI grows beyond our comprehension, then perhaps it would be useless to try and tell where it will go next. It will most likely be more able to determine its own agenda. This could be the point where the future takes us in the direction of “The Terminator.”
But if Jack Ma is right, maybe AI will free us from the yoke of mindless labor and allow us to focus on our humanity and its meaning.
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