Put to the sword

"Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but also burned down our villages." So should we see artificial intelligence as a boon and a threat?

Ray Kurzweil is a pretty clever guy. He was the principal inventor of the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesiser, the first music synthesiser capable of recreating a grand piano (and other orchestral instruments), plus the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition machine. Forbes called him ‘rightful heir to Thomas Edison’. He’s also an author, computer scientist, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google.

So when he says something, you listen.

Recently he tried to soothe anxieties about AI in an article for TIME magazine called ‘Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence’. He argued that nervousness with regards to AI was just the latest example of our fear of technology and equivocal progress it represents:

"Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but also burned down our villages."

However, unlike Stephen Hawkins and Elon Musk, he is far more positive when it comes to AI. Thanks to films and books, we have visions of megalomaniacs trying to grapple for control of AI or of hordes of robots cooperating to conquer the human race. Today, he argues, this is hardly the case nor even an emerging trend:

"AI is not in one or two hands; it’s in 1 billion or 2 billion hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago."

Kurzweil also uses the example of biotech, decades ahead of AI in terms of technology, which was once feared but thanks to international guidelines on ethics is now broadly seen as a force for good. The answer lies with humans, not their tools:

"Ultimately, the most important approach we can take to keep AI safe is to work on our human governance and social institutions. We are already a human-machine civilisation. The best way to avoid destructive conflict in the future is to continue the advance of our social ideals, which has already greatly reduced violence."

So before you accuse our Vpod video assistants of being harbingers of doom and destruction, consider this. They are fully customisable, operated by humans and designed to make life as simple as possible in the work environment.