Today is the age of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and other voice assistants. They are here in our midst, in our offices, homes, cars, hotels and many other places. These digital assistants collect and use personal, potentially identifiable and possibly sensitive information. The list of commands that Alexa can understand seems to grow daily and Amazon calls these as “skills”. Take our own Chitti, a humanoid robot portrayed by actor Rajinikanth in Enthiran and Ra. One. Chitti is programmed to understand human behaviour and emotions.
Alexa can set up routines where a single command of yours, ‘Alexa, Goodnight’ – shuts off all the lights, locks your doors, sets an alarm for you to wake up and sets your coffee pot to turn on at a certain time. The latest version of Alexa is able to perceive and acknowledge your frustrations, thought-process and even your future plans. Alexa can now guess what we are thinking and what we have forgotten. Daniel Rausch, VP in-charge of Alexa Smart Home Features, predicts that we have reached a stage where we can program our intuition and machine intelligence will soon replicate human curiosity and insight.
Alexa or other personal digital assistants can violate the privacy and security of our life and data. They are a privacy nightmare and we cannot trust them. Possibly, this is a dark side to these virtual assistants. In 2019 Amazon had over 10,000 employees working on Alexa and related products. Over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices have been sold. There are now more than 70,000 skills available in the Alexa Skills store.
Artificial intelligence (AI), sometimes called machine intelligence, is human-like intelligence, demonstrated by machines, in contrast to natural or human intelligence (HI). Machines (for example, robots or computers) are programmed to act as intelligent agents, artificial beings who perform cognitive functions associated with human mind such as perceiving, learning, responding and taking actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.
John McCarthy, an American computer scientist, is known as the father of AI which began as an academic discipline in the 1950s and developed on the assumption that AI can precisely simulate HI. It is an idea which has been explored by myths and fiction for time immemorial in history.
There is a fear among people that AI can do things better than humans. Some people consider AI dangerous to humanity if it progresses unabated. They believe that AI, unlike other technological revolutions, will create a risk of mass unemployment. On the other hand, AI has become an essential part of the technology industry, helping to solve many challenging problems in computer science, software engineering and operations research.
Creation of human beings was an extension of God and his divine intelligence (DI). Human person is the crowning glory of God. And AI is just an extension of HI. Humans can fix up and change the shortcomings in any AI robotic system. Human intelligence is bigger, broader and next to only divine intelligence (DI). As DI is the creator of HI, HI is the creator of AI. AI cannot replace HI. Humans, not machines, will build the future.
Yes, it is true that AI has incredible precision, accuracy and speed. It won’t be affected by hostile environment, thus it is able to complete dangerous tasks, explore the space, and endure problems that would injure and kill human beings. Yet, I am optimistic that AI will not be intelligent enough to replace HI because, in the end, AI shall always depend on programmed cods that can only be written and erased by HI.
Is the future of humanity in danger? More than 99% of all species, amounting to over five billion species that ever lived on earth are estimated to be extinct. Many of them perished in five cataclysmic events. It is said there are currently around 8.7 million species on earth. According to a recent survey, seven out of ten biologists think we are currently in the throes of a sixth mass extinction.
Let Alexa, Siri and Chitti live with us. Let them become an integral part of our daily life. They can intelligently and fluently interact with us providing us with adequate and accurate explanations and answers. Sure, we can benefit if they can understand and respond to our commands and queries. Let us remember, a machine is a machine and it could fake emotions. Let us not allow machines to sit on our heads. Prevention is better than cure. Jesus once said, “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Therefore, no AI is greater than HI and no HI greater than DI.
(The author is Vice-Chancellor, St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata: www.felixrajsj.com )(Published on 03rd August 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 32)