Artificial intelligence is cited as humanity’s next great revolution. But we still can’t predict whether, or how, it might permanently change our lives – or even end life as we know it.

So, just as steam engines of the past multiplied human strength, computers can now outperform our own ability to think and learn. And, while advances in the field of computing continue unabated, experts argue over the potential consequences of a digital revolution.

It is within this context that Tesla founder Elon Musk has launched a platform (OpenAI) to bring together some of the brightest minds to discuss the ethical issues of technological development.

We are without doubt in the midst of developments that are simultaneously fascinating and frightening. But what does this ‘buzz word’ artificial intelligence actually mean? Will we soon be living side-by-side with robots more intelligent than ourselves? Here, we share the opinions of experts.


How much technical progress has been made?

“Interesting ideas and new technological solutions were shared decades ago, but now everybody’s talking about ‘Deep Learning’, which draws on existing theories of artificial neural networks. The difference between now and then lies in the significantly quicker processing and storage abilities of modern, networked computing architecture.” – Alexander Hildebrandt, research engineer at Festo

“We’re standing at the threshold of a brave, new world. The development of artificial intelligence could either be the worst or greatest event in the history of human civilisation. We don’t know whether we’ll be supported, unaffected or destroyed by AI.” – Stephen Hawking, astrophysicist

“In one sense, these systems are ‘smarter’ than humans. However, their abilities exist within narrow parameters and their autonomy is ultimately very low. They can’t really do much more than the tasks for which they were designed.” – Yann LeCun, Facebook


What is artificial intelligence already able to achieve?

“Computers are already capable of achieving excellent results in cancer diagnosis and are successfully used to detect Alzheimer’s disease during brain scans. In the summer of 2017, researchers at Bari University in Italy presented a program that will enable them to pre-emptively diagnose Alzheimer’s, using magnetic resonance imaging, ten years before symptoms develop.” – Job Wizard

“Beginning at the 2016 Summer Olympics and continuing since, the Washington Post has demonstrated how artificial intelligence can perform everyday tasks without taking work away from people: AI has helped to write posts about topics regarded as less significant.” – Job Wizard

“Very few people are aware that artificial intelligence is being used in internet searches, online shops and for language assistance […]. Despite all the progress made, we’re only at the beginning when it comes to using AI systems. But there’s a great dynamic behind the whole process, not only in Germany, but also in other economies.” – Achim Berg, president of Bitkom


Will artificial intelligence make people’s jobs obsolete?

“There will be winners and losers. People with jobs no longer in demand will be needed elsewhere. Labour demands in areas such as storage, logistics or accounting will fall, but programmers, computer scientists and interface designers will be needed. It is the shared responsibility of society and the state to ensure there’s a safety net for those who end up losing out.” – Sven Gábor Jánszky, futurologist

“The whole thing can bring huge benefits. There are already robots that operate with more precision than humans. And self-learning systems can more and more quickly improve medicine and other technologies. For the jobs of the future, AI generally means that we must teach our children what is right: we should prioritise jobs that involve creativity, improvisation and people.” – Professor Max Tegmark of MIT in Cambridge

“Jobs that rely solely on routine are at risk because of artificial intelligence. Simple jobs for clerks will fall away – that is, those jobs that require people sitting in front of a screen all day entering data, or processing data using basic formulas. […] Even today, people are still spending a lot of time collecting and processing data. For many, this isn’t the most exciting aspect of their job; most would appreciate having more time for creativity.” – Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, director of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI)

“Jobs will be lost quicker than the market can create new ones of value,” according to Kenneth Brant, research director at market researcher Gartner.


How can companies adapt to optimise change?

“A key factor is that you must learn to forget. I call this the ‘rulebreaker strategy’. It means questioning and rethinking all basic rules assumed to be valid and, in the process, becoming open to new ideas. I try to establish this kind of thinking in companies. An example of a basic rule in the automobile industry: there is a driver. So, according to this thinking, I construct a car around the driver, while trying to make it fast, safe and economical. Silicon Valley has successfully broken this rule: there is no driver, not even a passenger, perhaps just a box being transported. If I don’t have to accommodate a driver, I’ll design a completely different car – that’s what it’s all about.” – Sven Gábor Jánszky, futurologist

“We have to win the race between the growing power of AI and our growing knowledge of how to manage AI. And we shouldn’t simply expect to learn from our mistakes. That could end in disaster. […] We must consider our values and define our goals. And we have to teach AI to adapt to these goals and then maintain them, even as it becomes more intelligent.” – Professor Mark Tegmark, MIT

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Also published on Medium.