If you've been keeping up with the news on artificial intelligence, you're well aware that we can expect the nascent category of technologies to revolutionize our entire society. Unless, of course, it ends up annihilating us instead, as some like Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking have warned.

To try and bring some clarity to the issue, the Pew Research Center surveyed almost 1,000 smart people with salient thoughts on thinking machines. Perhaps not surprisingly, on the aggregate, the experts think artificial intelligence will benefit humanity, but they also worry that it will destroy or damage society. 

The big concerns that were repeated most included artificial intelligence bringing a loss of jobs and human agency, abusive surveillance or data use, and even the kind of violent mayhem the doomsayers have prognosticated.

Overall, a fairly strong majority of people surveyed think these dangers can be mitigated. Pew asked if, by 2030, they thought that the expanding role of artificial intelligence would leave us better or worse off. Turns out 63 percent were hopeful we'll be better off. 

In their responses, many of the experts elaborated on their vision of our future with A.I. and some of the quotes make for the most fascinating parts of a rather lengthy report. 

I went through all of them and handpicked some of the most interesting, all by myself and without the help of any machine learning algorithms. Here they are:

"We can virtually eliminate global poverty, massively reduce disease, and provide better education to almost everyone on the planet. That said, A.I. and ML [machine learning] can also be used to increasingly concentrate wealth and power, leaving many people behind, and to create even more horrifying weapons." --Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

"By 2030, most social situations will be facilitated by bots -- intelligent-seeming programs that interact with us in human-like ways. At home, parents will engage skilled bots to help kids with homework and catalyze dinner conversations. At work, bots will run meetings. A bot confidant will be considered essential for psychological well-being, and we'll increasingly turn to such companions for advice ranging from what to wear to whom to marry." --Judith Donath, Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

"A.I. will drive a vast range of efficiency optimizations, but will also enable hidden discrimination and arbitrary penalization of individuals in areas like insurance, job seeking, and performance assessment." --Andrew McLaughlin, executive director of the Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University, previously deputy chief technology officer of the United States

"The range of opportunities for intelligent agents to augment human intelligence is still virtually unlimited. The major issue is that the more convenient an agent is, the more it needs to know about you -- preferences, timing, capacities, etc. -- which creates a tradeoff of more help requires more intrusion." --Michael M. Roberts, first president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann)

"A.I. is a tool that will be used by humans for all sorts of purposes, including the pursuit of power. There will be abuses of power that involve A.I., just as there will be advances in science and humanitarian efforts that also involve A.I. Unfortunately, there are certain trend lines that are likely to create massive instability. Take, for example, climate change and climate migration. This will further destabilize Europe and the U.S., and I expect that, in panic, we will see A.I. be used in harmful ways in light of other geopolitical crises." --Danah Boyd, a principal researcher for Microsoft and founder and president of the Data & Society Research Institute

"We will need new hybrid-skilled knowledge workers who can operate in jobs that have never needed to exist before. We'll need farmers who know how to work with big data sets. Oncologists trained as robotocists. Biologists trained as electrical engineers. We won't need to prepare our workforce just once, with a few changes to the curriculum. As A.I. matures, we will need a responsive workforce, capable of adapting to new processes, systems, and tools every few years. The need for these fields will arise faster than our labor departments, schools, and universities are acknowledging. ... We need to address a difficult truth that few are willing to utter aloud: A.I. will eventually cause a large number of people to be permanently out of work." --Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute and professor of strategic foresight at New York University

"My expectation is that in 2030, A.I. will be in routine use to fight wars and kill people, far more effectively than we can currently kill. As societies, we will be less affected by this than we currently are, as we will not be doing the fighting and killing ourselves." --Simon Biggs, a professor of interdisciplinary arts at the University of Edinburgh

"The developed world faces an unprecedented productivity slowdown that promises to limit advances in living standards. A.I. has the potential to play an important role in boosting productivity and living standards." --Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

"By 2030, A.I. -- or using Joi Ito's phrase, extended intelligence -- will value and revalue virtually every area of human behavior and interaction. A.I. and advancing technologies will change our response framework and time frames (which in turn, changes our sense of time). Where once social interaction happened in places -- work, school, church, family environments -- social interactions will increasingly happen in continuous, simultaneous time." --Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research

"Automated warfare -- when autonomous weapons kill human beings without human engagement -- can lead to a lack of responsibility for taking the enemy's life or even knowledge that an enemy's life has been taken. At stake is nothing less than what sort of society we want to live in and how we experience our humanity." --Batya Friedman, human-computer interaction professor at the University of Washington's Information School

"Life will definitely be better as A.I. extends lifetimes, from health apps that intelligently 'nudge' us to health, to warnings about impending heart/stroke events, to automated health care for the underserved (remote) and those who need extended care (elder care). ...  Future happiness is really unclear. Some will cede their agency to A.I. in games, work, and community, much like the opioid crisis steals agency today. On the other hand, many will be freed from mundane, unengaging tasks/jobs. If elements of community happiness are part of A.I. objective functions, then A.I. could catalyze an explosion of happiness." --Greg Shannon, chief scientist for the CERT Division at Carnegie Mellon University

"A.I. will continue to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few big monopolies based in the U.S. and China. Most people -- and parts of the world -- will be worse off." --Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation

"We don't choose our breakfast or our morning workouts or our route to work. An algorithm will make these choices for us in a way that maximizes efficiency (narrowly defined) and probably also maximizes the profitability of the service provider. By 2030, we may cram more activities and interactions into our days, but I don't think that will make our lives 'better.'" --Baratunde Thurston, futurist, former director of digital at The Onion and co-founder of comedy/technology start-up Cultivated Wit

"A.I. is creating a world where reality can be manipulated in ways we do not appreciate. Fake videos, audio, and similar media are likely to explode and create a world where 'reality' is hard to discern." --Thad Hall, a researcher and co-author of Politics for a Connected American Public

"There is at least a reasonable possibility that that they will swat us like the flies we are -- the possibility that Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and others have warned about. There is no way, to my knowledge, of stopping this future from emerging." --Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology

"A.I. will be very useful to a small professional class but will be used to monitor and control everyone else." --David A. Banks, an associate research analyst with the Social Science Research Council

"1984, George Orwell, police state." --Stavros Tripakis, an associate professor of computer science at Aalto University in Finland

"Imagine being subject to repeated document checks as you travel around the country because you know a number of people who are undocumented immigrants and your movements therefore fit the profile of an illegal immigrant. And you are not sure whether to protest because you don't know whether such protests could encourage an algorithm to put you into a 'suspicious' category which could get you harassed even more often." --David Brake, senior lecturer in communications at the University of Bedfordshire

"A.I. will harm some consumers. For instance, rich consumers will benefit from self-driving cars, while others must pay to retrofit existing cars to become more visible to the A.I." --Betsy Williams, a researcher at the Center for Digital Society and Data Studies at the University of Arizona

"Unskilled people will suffer because there will be little employment for them. This may create disruption to society, some of which we have already seen with Trump, Brexit, etc." --Alan Bundy, a professor of automated reasoning at the University of Edinburgh

"I see A.I. and machine learning as augmenting human cognition a la Douglas Engelbart. There will be abuses and bugs, some harmful, so we need to be thoughtful about how these technologies are implemented and used, but, on the whole, I see these as constructive." --Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist at Google

"Many if not most of the large-scale technologies that we all depend upon -- such as the internet itself, the power grid, and roads and highways -- will simply be unable to function in the future without A.I., as both solution complexity and demand continue to increase." --Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group

"I'm thinking of a world in which people's devices continuously assess the world around them to keep a population safer and healthier. Thinking of those living in large urban areas, with devices forming a network of A.I. input through sound analysis, air quality, natural events, etc., that can provide collective notifications and insight to everyone in a certain area about the concerns of environmental factors, physical health, even helping provide no quarter for bad actors through community policing." --Mike Osswald, vice president of experience innovation at Hanson Inc.

"People will increasingly realize the importance of interacting with each other and the natural world and they will program A.I. to support such goals, which will in turn support the ongoing emergence of the 'slow movement.' For example, grocery shopping and mundane chores will be allocated to A.I. (smart appliances), freeing up time for preparation of meals in keeping with the slow food movement. Concern for the environment will likewise encourage the growth of the slow goods/slow fashion movement. The ability to recycle, reduce, reuse will be enhanced by the use of in-home 3-D printers, giving rise to a new type of 'craft' that is supported by A.I." --Dana Klisanin, psychologist, futurist and game designer

"While driving home on a long commute from work, the human will be reading a book in the heads-up screen of the windshield. The car will be driving autonomously on the highway for the moment. The driver will have an idea to note down and add to a particular document; all this will be done via voice. In the middle of this, a complicated traffic arrangement will be seen approaching via other networked cars. The A.I. will politely interrupt the driver, put away the heads-up display, and warn the driver to take over in the next 10 seconds or so. The conversation will be flawless and natural, like Jarvis in 'Avengers,' even charming. But it will be tasks-focused to the car, personal events, notes, and news." --Mark Crowley, Institute for Complexity and Innovation at the University of Waterloo 

"The most encouraging uses of A.I. will be in early warning of terror activities, incipient diseases and environmental threats and in improvements in decision-making." --Theodore Gordon, futurist, management consultant and co-founder of the Millennium Project

"Smart farms and connected distribution systems will hopefully eliminate urban food deserts and enable food production in areas not suited for agriculture." --Yvette Wohn, director of the Social Interaction Lab at the New Jersey Institute of Technology

Published on: Dec 12, 2018
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