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The huge question before us: AI and the future

27 February 2019 Luca De Ambroggi

Whether you like it or not, artificial intelligence is the future; it's here for the long haul. AI is not just hype or a buzzword, although it is sometimes misused or misinterpreted. And AI resources and experts are in very limited supply, which explains why professionals bearing AI competencies can expect large paychecks, regardless of their location anywhere in the world.

The impact of AI will be disruptive to many—if not all—industries. The disruption will reverberate even in sectors not traditionally known to be connected to industry, such as academia and the educational system, since education is a key component of AI. In fact, AI's impact will be felt by our entire society, especially in these specific areas:

  • Privacy and data security
  • Labor and the industrial front
  • Ethics and morality data handling to autonomous/self-learning robots

The challenges above are also influenced by the peculiar geopolitics of each country, played against an increasingly imminent global backdrop of AI-driven enterprise. For instance, the need for data security and privacy is more pressing and urgent today than ever before, given the ready availability of immensely powerful technologies. Statements last year from French President Emmanuel Macron, who is pushing hard for a national AI strategy in France, highlight the importance of having clear and coherent regulations that would let citizens enjoy the benefits of AI without the technology being abused.

Such concerns underscore the huge investments being made on AI around the world but especially in the US and China, where the race is on to master AI and other similar transformative technologies. Whoever wins will likely hold the key to untold political and economic advantage in the years to come, armed with mighty AI-driven capabilities to successfully address a range of vexing questions, and whose answers could dictate the shape of both public policy and private enterprise in the future.

These questions include where AI software development is headed, the next big role of massive data, AI's effect on law enforcement and regulation, the use of AI in video surveillance, and the technology's prospective impact on government funding and industry development.

Some scenarios appear troubling when the long-term consequences of AI are considered. China, for instance, will have to wrestle with the colossal implications of AI-propelled manufacturing against the gigantic workforce that has been the country's backbone and main engine of growth for decades—that is to say, of permanently abandoning manual labor in favor of impersonal robotic efficiency. The effects of deploying AI know-how in current manually intensive environments must be kept top-of-mind, with requalification and education considered as strategic necessities.

The three stages of AI

We are today at the so-called Narrow or Weak AI stage—where artificial intelligence is less robust than human brainpower; or where AI may be equal to—or superior—in just a few limited tasks and senses. Most AI applications are currently at this point, characterized in general by four major abilities: perceiving, learning, abstracting, and reasoning

The next milestone will be tough to match. Generic Multi-Modal AI is comparable to human intelligence, applies to all the senses, and works powerfully in parallel. From a sensing perspective, electronics and semiconductors already support the ability to see, hear, and touch; and with the latest MEMS technologies, smell and taste as well. The capability to process and operate that kind of data is simply a question of time.

Here we should also mention the weighty matter of conscience, which straddles the contentious realms of religion and philosophy. We can debate what role "conscience" will play in AI and how it might "evolve" as AI continually learns from its experience—mirroring, as some see it, the evolving in humans of consciousness and behavior as a byproduct of experience.

The last step—and I fear to use the word given its potential to be misinterpreted—is Superhuman. To reach this stage is what will drive current and future AI research because at the Superhuman level, AI will soar high above human aptitude and capability.

Before we arrive at this critical juncture, however, we better have in place solid and sound regulations, methodologies, and ethical procedures to ensure that we stay on the high road in AI ventures and endeavors—lest AI become an enemy and prove to be our own undoing.

For more information on IHS Markit research covering artificial intelligence and other transformative technologies, visit our website. You can also see more of Mr. De Ambroggi's incisive commentary on AI as it relates to education, the supply chain, and the semiconductor industry.

Luca De Ambroggi is IHS Markit senior research director on artificial intelligence
Posted 27 February 2019

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