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Trust me, I’m a robot


Stories about artificial intelligence (AI) generally appear in the news and popular culture because the scenarios they depict are extreme enough to be compelling. Will machines one day become so sophisticated that they conspire to overthrow the human race? Or is the technology so flawed that supposedly ‘intelligent’ systems, such as autonomous vehicles, pose a threat to life and limb through sheer ineptitude?

Both extremes lead to the same conclusion: whether AI is too smart or too stupid – it’s not to be trusted.

However, AI has many potential benefits, which public and user scepticism could prevent society from ever realising. As risky as it may seem to place too much faith in these technological advances, failure to embrace them at all due to unwarranted suspicion could equally work to society’s detriment.

So, what is the optimum amount of trust?

Rise of the machines

As is usually the case, the truth sits somewhere between the two extremes. People often seem surprisingly disappointed to hear that AI is unlikely to bring about the downfall of civilised society, but the reality is this: the technology doesn’t currently have what it takes to achieve world domination, and there is little to suggest it will acquire the means, motive or opportunity to make it happen in the foreseeable future.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate concerns about AI being ‘too smart’. The most widespread fear is that AI could take over human jobs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as mechanisation, mass production and automation did in the previous three. Technology, having already declared war on manual labour, is now coming after the white-collar worker. But is this fear justified, and can anything be done to allay it?

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