Norway has finally published the national AI strategy, which leads the way for more companies on how to move further with this technology. As an AI company, it’s important to us that people understand the significance and the opportunities that lie ahead. To some, AI might seem like some abstract, scary, sci-fi-thing. Therefore, we are glad to hear that a part of the official strategy is education. In this post, Erik Leung, co-founder of Simplifai, gives an historical perspective on the common fear of technological development.
Steve Jobs once famously referred to computers as «The bicycle of the mind.» Meaning that we humans are not as strong as lions and gorillas, we can’t run as fast as a cheetah, can’t fly like a bird, or dive as a fish, but still we dominate this planet above all species because we build tools that circumvent our physical shortcomings. If the computers were created as an attempt to circumvent our mental shortcomings, then I would say that AI is going to augment not only our ability to think, but also our ability to perceive this world.
Even though AI creates possibilities through its profound usage, it also has been spreading fear. Fear of losing control of it, that the robots will «take over» and that all hell will break loose. However, like any of the tools we have created before, whether the tool does good or bad to human beings, it’s merely the mind of the person who determines whether the tool will be used for something noble, or something terrible.
Historically, we tend to fear the new
In history, there have been many inventions that were controversial at first, that spread fear among people, until the invention became so ubiquitous that people eventually came to accept and acknowledge it. Let’s do an example. The first of such invention was (most likely) fire. Imagine the fear that must have struck people the first time they saw lightning that caused a fire. Humans have since then controlled and mastered fire by learning how to create it by rubbing stones or wood. Today, it would be silly to say that we are afraid of fire because of the adoption of fire as a tool to generate heat and cook food (and later on as a key element to all combustion) is complete.
Another example is electricity. Even in the 1980s, people were afraid that electricity would leak out of the wall jacks. You could also look at airplanes, computers, and online banking. Like AI – they are simply parts of a long list of human inventions that initially caused fear and later became a significant part of our lives and society. The way I see it, fear is often originated from the lack of full understanding. Once we have learned how to master the tool, and it becomes universal, the fear will fade away.
Understanding and mastering make all the difference
The key element to eliminate fear is through learning and understanding the unknown that is standing in front of us. AI as a technology, through its complexity in nature and how it may be applied anywhere, has caused people to think that it will take over the world (movies like Matrix and Bladerunner haven’t helped the cause either). We need to team up together to make AI work for us instead of against us.
On one end, researchers and companies like Simplifai, who work with AI, are working towards mastering the technology and make them useful for society. On the other end, the public should learn to be acquainted with the technology, what it is about, what is it good for, how it should be applied, etc. So that together, we can move towards the era of AI and use this powerful tool to take society to the next level. Just like the way fire, combustion, computers, and the internet have done for us in the past.
Norway and Europe are increasing the level of competence
To lift the general competence of the public, our government has decided to offer free courses on AI, and encourage people to learn as part of the national strategy for AI. Several companies have already put it on the agenda for their employees. I fully support this move, because the way to eliminate fear is through knowledge, and knowledge offered free to the public will go a long way, opening more minds to the technology, and give people ideas on how it should be used in the right direction. I am excited to see and participate in this technology wave, and I am happy that our government is taking the lead to drive this transformation.
This post is also available in: Engelsk