As a computer science and creative writing major, I cannot cleanse my mind of the impending revolution that artificial intelligence will soon have on our world. It is both exciting and frightening, as AI is a wholly unique and life-altering technology with impacts that few scholars can predict.
Technology has been evolving at unbelievable speeds predicted by Moore’s Law for years now, but AI’s progression has been unfathomable. Our current form of AI, machine learning, gives researchers the ability to not only train computers to correctly solve problems, but to learn from its mistakes and then teach other computers the same tasks.
Just since I started college in 2016, I have seen AI go from theory to eye-opening power. Google and other tech companies promise self-driving cars within the next few years. Researchers have produced neural nets that analyze radiology scans more accurately than top physicians. Just recently, Amazon opened its first cashier-free store, operated by cameras and machine learning from above. Soon, HAL-9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” will no longer be science fiction, but science fact. Ask Google Home or Amazon Alexa.
While only a handful of researchers currently have the experience and skills to work on machine learning, it is imperative that the general public understand the role AI will play in our society and learn to adapt with it. Economists argue on exact figures of unemployment, but there is no doubt that AI will alter, if not eliminate, most unskilled labor jobs. There is not enough mainstream media coverage depicting this, leaving far too many people in the dark. The “Today” show should bring in computer scientists and engineers to discuss AI instead of a fashion designer to cover an awards show.
There needs to be a systemic change in American education, where STEM fields are not only offered, but required. While I see the value of reading and writing skills, STEM ability will be far more important for the coming generations as humans seek to end disease and advance automation. Schools and our federal government must invest in STEM in order to stay competitive: China and other developed countries are going all in on AI and they do not lack the infrastructure to surpass the U.S. if we don’t act upon our educational initiatives.
No one can truly imagine what AI will do to our society, but more people having discussions on it will surely sway the advancement in a more progressive way. If the general public has no background with AI, how are they supposed to effectively vote on laws and rules pertaining to its usage in the economy? If most people lack STEM education, how will they find employment in a tech-based workforce?
At its worst, AI can demolish society, leading to a Skynet-level takeover or unfathomable global plutocracy. At its best, AI can provide a nexus between innovation and societal advancement, enhancing numerous initiatives central to all humans, such as medicine, equality and peace. Let’s work together on a better future.
Sean Kelso, born and raised in St. Louis, is a sophomore at Columbia University in New York.