ipopba - stock.adobe.com

Artificial intelligence - friend or foe?

AI can and will be a force for good - but we need a global conversation about its regulation to make sure the benefits of the technology outweigh the risks

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is not only a topical point of discussion, but a contentious one too. In recent weeks, some of the “Godfathers of AI” have turned their attention away from the positive potential of the technology and instead towards the potential of armageddon. Warnings have been plastered across national newspapers debating whether or not humanity is driving itself towards extinction. Others, however, have continued to dismiss any notion that these advancements are dystopian or apocalyptic.

If there is one point of consensus, it’s that the path ahead is still not clear. And whether AI will help or hinder us remains somewhat undetermined.

The deeply polarising nature of this debate prompted us at Here East to explore this question in depth, and we recently gathered leaders from business, technology, the creative industries, law and academia to drill down into the question: is AI a friend or foe? Ultimately, there is one answer to the hypothesis: AI will either be a friend or a foe, depending on how we harness it.

From aiding in medical research and optimising the workplace to reducing waste and pollution, we have already witnessed some of the many benefits AI can bring when used for good. Recently, we saw AI help a paralysed man to walk again with a device that was able to read his brain waves and send instructions to his muscles. An AI-based decoder is being developed that can translate brain activity into text, pioneering a non-invasive way to restore speech in those who have lost it due to motor neurone disease or a stroke.

AI tools will also be instrumental in helping to solve our climate crisis, with the capacity to collate and interpret large datasets, make informed predictions, and generate impactful solutions.

Immeasurable benefits

By employing the technology in this way, we will reap immeasurable benefits and witness both short- and long-term improvements to society. Rather than becoming a malevolent or resistant force, AI should be viewed as a partner or ally, automating repetitive tasks, enhancing productivity, driving economic growth, and helping emerging nations rapidly industrialise. Rather than replacing us, it can assist us, offering us a helping hand.

As Microsoft has suggested, AI is a copilot, sitting alongside us but not flying the plane.

To reap AI’s rewards, we have to educate and train people – particularly the younger generation – not only how to use the technology responsibly, but effectively. Schools should be considering how to integrate AI into the syllabus, with frameworks that will keep our children safe as well as teach them the skills necessary for our future.

We are seeing this in higher education already. As universities are starting to recognise the value of incorporating technology-focused studies into the curriculum, offering courses – including on AI – designed to close the digital skills gap and prepare their students for the AI future. It is imperative that schools keep pace and recognise the role that AI skills will play in driving productivity and innovation. This training and education is crucial in getting the technology to work for us, rather than us to work for it.

Read more about the regulation of AI

Of course, creating policies and parameters around artificial intelligence is a necessary and important step. With AI already permeating everything we do, it is vital that global leaders come together to discuss the blueprint for success – and that these conversations occur at an international level.

Fortunately, governments are beginning to engage in discussions about what a regulatory environment looks like, with news that the UK is set to host the first global summit on AI regulation this autumn. It is exciting to see the UK at the forefront of these discussions, and I hope that as these conferences begin, we will focus our attention on creating responsible citizens - remembering that where we go from here, and how we apply the technology, is up to us.

Indeed, holding these conversations on a global level is likely to temper the doomsday talk around AI. Discussion around AI should not be used to give rise to scaremongering, but to identify the risks and dangers of the technology, and monitor them accordingly. We are facing a new industrial revolution. And while the advancements in AI may currently be creating more questions than answers, the debate must be welcomed as a step towards truly integrating this technology into our lives in the safest and most beneficial way possible for humanity.

Unanswered questions

AI exists not only for our convenience, but to help us perform better, speeding up processes and in turn leaving us with more time for high-value work, and perhaps even a better work-life balance.

While we must take the warnings around AI seriously, we should also be embracing and therefore refining the abundant ways in which it can enhance our lives. There are still many unanswered questions that need addressing, including the crucial question of global accessibility and bias in AI databases. The world is having these discussions in small rooms and behind tall walls, and we must urgently expand and open up these conversations at scale.

When I look ahead to our future world, I see medical and scientific breakthroughs, enhanced education systems, and economic growth.

Artificial intelligence can be a positive force if we keep a close eye on how we use it. It is there to work with us, not against us. And if we harness it in the right way, ensuring that humans are in the driving seat, it will open the door to opportunities we have never had before.

Gavin Poole is CEO at Here East. 

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

Data Center
Data Management