When I first read Nick Bostrum’s Superintelligence and the brilliant synthesis of related expert views on the subject of AI from Tim Urban at Wait But Why back in 2015, I was terrified.
Previously, my existential worries focused on the climate crisis. Visions of the sea burning, desertification, and mass extinction were the fuel of my nightmares. The impact of AI on human’s continued existence suddenly eclipsed all other fears. The idea of a paperclip-covered solar system floated up from my subconscious in meetings, at parties, when gardening.
This dark side of the AI revolution is so far beyond our ability to predict or affect as individuals, that it’s useless to dwell on. Instead, I have tried to read more positive views on what the future might look like as AI-driven innovation emerges. Here are three very different areas of innovation that are fundamentally changing for the better, thanks to AI:
I heard on the radio only yesterday that AI-supported research discovered a new antibiotic capable of tackling superbugs. Innovation in this field of medicine has stalled for decades, yet an AI program produced a shortlist of compounds from a list of thousands within 90 minutes. This type of research would take humans years to undertake.
Transitioning to a future energy system fuelled by renewable power, rather than fossil fuels will only be possible using machine learning (ML) algorithms trained on vast data sets. Breakthrough technology driving innovation in the energy sector is underpinned by ML, a subset within the field of AI that has transformed everything from the way we shop to the way we approach conservation.
Writing just got a whole load easier, thanks to ChatGPT. While a bunch of people on this very platform choose to avoid machine-assisted communication, I can only see an upside to embracing this new generative programming. Rather than staring at a blank page, you get the structure of a thought process revealed to you within seconds. Explaining complex topics in a clear way just got a whole lot easier.
As a professional communicator, I don’t feel threatened, I feel empowered. As someone with ADHD, ChatGPT presents a lifeline, aiding focus and creating a skeleton of order around my often chaotic thought process.
There is always a dark side to technological innovation. If the past is any predictor of the future, we can see that every huge step-change in innovation, from sowing crops to harnessing coal power to the iPhone, has produced seismic improvements in people’s lives… with some unfortunate toxic side products. I believe that we’re living on an existential knife-edge, where those toxic side products may destroy all life on earth as we know it within the next century. AI is more likely to end up being a saviour, rather than the destroyer of worlds that haunts my nightmares. Whether you think this outcome likely or not, I think we should all take Mo Gawdat’s advice and be treat our AI assistants with kindness and respect.