Will robots take all of our jobs in a few years? The short answer is no.
At least that was the overall consensus in the audience after a panel of experts on artificial intelligence (AI)—which included Barrick’s Chief Innovation Officer Michelle Ash—spoke recently at a World Economic Forum event in Toronto.
Close to 300 people attended the event, billed as the SHAPE North America Summit. The vast majority were Global Shapers—young leaders from all over the world, selected for outstanding achievements in their careers so far, who also leverage their talents to spur community development.
Joining Ash on the panel were Julia Bossmann, President of the Foresight Institute and a member at the World Economic Forum’s Future Agenda Council, and Jordan Jacobs, co-founder at the Vector Institute, an Ontario-based non-profit that focuses on AI research.
While most people in the audience were familiar with the world of AI and the chatter that surrounds it, there was no shortage of questions in the room. Here are five takeaways from the panel, in the words of some of audience members—the Global Shapers—who attended the event.
Sharing knowledge and dispelling myths about AI was at the core of the question Isaiah Little, a Global Shaper from Newark, New Jersey, and Creative Director at GalleryRetail, asked at the event.
Panel experts agreed. That’s why Bossmann provided a simple explanation of deep learning—the most popular approach to AI right now.
“We’re building artificial networks of artificial neurons that do things that are kind of similar to what the brain does and what the neurons in the brain do,” said Bossmann, a neuroscientist by training. “And it’s all based on complex mathematics.”
There are many qualities of the human brain that AI can’t replicate yet, she added. Any action that requires deliberate conscious thought—such as complex problem solving and highly creative tasks—are beyond current AI capabilities.
A large volume of the stories that have been published recently on the future of AI and its impact on the world have focused on the possible negative outcomes. There are plenty of reports about a future with exponentially higher unemployment rates and increased income inequality. Some even focus on doomsday scenarios featuring out-of-control police robots.
We’re not likely to see a Terminator within the next few decades, said panelist Jacobs during the event. And while it’s important to discuss the possible negative effects, we also need to think about the flipside of the coin.
“Globally I think you’ll see an expansion of the economy; an expansion of wealth that hopefully will be distributed quite widely,” he said. “I think there will be an unbelievable amount of opportunity to improve people’s lives.”
It’s a sentiment Jaxson Kahn, a Global Shaper from Toronto, echoed. Kahn is the Marketing Manager at Nudge, an AI-powered sales platform. He is also an active member at many non-profits, and co-founder of Young Diplomats of Canada.
Although it is true that R2D2 and its cousins won’t be taking over everyone’s jobs in the near future, it is also true that AI will transform the way we do many things at work. Arjun Gupta, Chair of the SHAPE North America Summit and an active member of Canada’s start-up community, says that this is perhaps one of the most important takeaways from the panel.
Implementing strategies that help our workforce become more adaptable to the changes is key in ensuring a smooth transition process, said panelist Jordan Jacobs. “Math is critical, and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education is critical. Creativity is important, but the most important thing is adaptability. And it’s something that I don’t think is really taught in most schools at a young age.”
For Daniel Sanchez, a Global Shaper and sustainability consultant from Tijuana, Mexico, one of the most important topics discussed during the panel was the ethical implications of AI. Who decides how AI-powered technologies choose an outcome when faced with ethical dilemmas humans encounter on a daily basis?
“It’s only through discussion and through thoughtful analysis that we are going to come to whatever the right outcome is there,” said Ash to answer the question. “The reality is that human drivers in that particular example make those ethical decisions when they’re put in those horrible situations. And the question is: how do we want that decision to be made as a society?”
Addressing issues like ethical dilemmas requires thoughtful and deliberate discussions that lead to the creation of sound policies. It’s an exciting challenge for someone like Bianca Sievers, a Global Shaper from Sacramento, California, and a Senior Business Development Specialist at the California governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
Thinking about the possible negative impacts of AI and crafting policy to mitigate them will play an important role in the successful and beneficial evolution of the technology, said panelist Bossmann.
“I think it’s actually a good thing that we’re worried about this,” she said. “That’s how we make sure those consequences don’t happen.”
To highlight the importance of policies in the AI debate, Bossmann provided the example of legislation enacted during the 1980s and 1990s to tackle the erosion of the ozone layer.
“The ozone hole became a big issue and people started becoming really worried about it; that everyone was going to get skin cancer,” she said. “And because of that conversation there were legislations put in place that limited the emission of chemicals that would contribute to this, and today we actually have better ozone coverage in our atmosphere than we used to have 20 years ago.”