As with so many new technologies, AI has struggled to contain the hype surrounding it in recent years, with stories of the upcoming job apocalypse abound. Understanding the true state of affairs has been muddied by the fact that seemingly venerable institutions such as the University of Oxford have been cheerleaders in chief in stoking up fears.
A recent paper from PwC set out to examine not only how AI is being used today, but how both businesses and consumers feel about the technology. The authors identify three core forms of AI in use today:
- Assisted intelligence, which comes in the form of decision support systems that help us do things more effectively. The GPS system in your car is a good example.
- Augmented intelligence, which allows us to do things we wouldn't otherwise be able to do. For instance, the algorithms that underpin ridesharing platforms such as Uber have created a business model that wouldn't be viable otherwise.
- Autonomous intelligence, which is arguably the next phase of AI and involves the algorithms acting autonomously. Driverless vehicles are the most obvious example of this form of AI.
Whilst the rhetoric surrounding AI suggests it is the kind of violent change that is impossible to ignore, the authors suggest instead that it's likely to be a much subtler shift in technologies.
A Supportive Public
The study revealed that most of the public is broadly supportive of the benefits AI can bring to their lives. 63% revealed that they believe AI can help to solve many of the problems faced by societies, with 59% believing it can help people to live a more fulfilling life. This is significantly higher than those who believed AI would have a negative impact. What's more, many believe that these benefits will be extended to a much broader section of society than is currently the case.
"AI has the potential to become a great equalizer. Access to services that were traditionally reserved for a privileged few can be extended to the masses. More than half of consumers believe AI will provide educational help to disadvantaged schoolchildren, 122 million of whom are functionally illiterate worldwide," the authors say.
The report highlights how AI is likely to not only decrease the costs associated with education, but also to significantly increase personalization levels. For instance, many universities today are able to track the progress of each student and offer individual support. Many respondents believe that AI technology will significantly increase access to not only education but to financial, medical and legal services.
There remains a strong desire for personal interactions, however, with most respondents still wanting their interactions with doctors, teachers and so on to be human rather than machine-based.
Open vs. Closed
Data is something I've touched upon many times on this blog, and the report highlights the dichotomy many people feel about the use of their data for AI. Whilst many fully understand that these services rely upon a steady stream of data to function, they are also increasingly aware of their privacy rights and expect their data to be used appropriately.
The authors conclude with a number of steps people can take to better prepare for the AI future we face.
- Embrace learning and perspectives: They believe that whilst AI will take many of the menial tasks we have to do away, it will also necessitate the learning of new skills. As both organizations and individuals, it's key to seek out new perspectives.
- Make better use of data: Data is the fuel that powers AI, so it's crucial that society better understands the data economy and how the benefits of AI can be spread as far and wide as possible.
"An open mind will be the biggest asset in the near future, as the technology advances and we continue to experiment with how to use AI to solve problems in our personal lives, professional lives, and society at large. Those who think practically and critically will ride the waves of these advancements instead of being left behind," they conclude.
The report is as broadly optimistic about the AI-powered future, as most of the respondents seem to be. Given the qualitative nature of the research, you could well argue that it is as subjective as the various other studies on this topic, but it does nonetheless add to the debate. Whether it's signal or noise, I will leave to you.