News & Insight

How Afraid Should We Be of AI?

Dark shadows and things that go bump in the night can frighten anyone. Growing up, you probably remember a spooky story, movie, or sound that haunted your dreams or beguiled your imagination. Now there’s a new fear lurking in your devices, on the other end of the phone, and possibly invading your brick-and-mortar experience. It’s everywhere – artificial intelligence that is.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

A cursory look at the literature reveals that the term “Artificial Intelligence” means different things to different people. Some researchers, for example, have opted for the Oxford dictionary definition, agreeing that “AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence…”1 Others, however, take a more narrow view by equating it with complex prediction and decision-making.2 Still others take a step back by framing AI as an umbrella term that encompasses many functions, such as automation and big-data analytics.3 Under this broad conceptual umbrella, AI refers to any computer system that can perform a task that typically requires a human, reflecting the Oxford dictionary definition.4 On the other end of the spectrum, Garrison Wynn (2018) considered the term “artificial intelligence” an oxymoron because machines do not have the ability to perceive human emotion and urgency. As Wynn asked, “can it [AI] turn an angry customer around in seven minutes?”5 So, is there a correct definition of AI? Probably not.

Is the Fear Real?

The lack of clarity around the term causes those less knowledgeable about artificial intelligence to make assumptions that machines will soon take over the world. Hollywood takes it a step further with movies such as the Terminator, Blade Runner, and Chappie where AI machines go rouge, thus leaving a perception that it’s likely to happen in the real world. People are also scared of what they don’t understand. The more education around the use and meaning of artificial intelligence the less likely humans will hesitate to use it. Artificial intelligence has the power to move civilization into a progressive state and the truth is most of us are already encountering it in our everyday lives.

What’s Next?

Companies like Google are pushing the envelope with AI making things less scary when it comes to teaching a machine human activity. Google recently created the Piano Genie by utilizing a predictive modeling process to teach notes and keys. This process augments the creative side of humans and instinctive knowledge. In addition to intriguing inventions like Piano Genie, the neuroscience field continues to collect more information about the human brain, which will eventually cross paths with AI. No one can predict every effect the introduction of artificial intelligence will have on society, but there will certainly be lots of hype, and yes, the occasional fear.

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  1. Ransbothan, S., Kiron, D., Gerbert, P, and Reeves, M. (2017). Reshaping business with artificial intelligence. MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group.
  2. Agrawal, A., Gans, J., & Goldfarb, A. (2018). A simple tool to start making decisions with the help of AI. Harvard Business Review, April 2018.
  3. Davenport, T. H. & Ronanki, R. (2018). Artificial intelligence for the real world: Don’t start with moon shots. Harvard Business Review, pp 108-116.
  4. Burgess, A. (2018). The executive guide to artificial intelligence. London: Burgess, p. 5.
  5. Wynn, G. (2018). Does AIs ROI mean that humans are SOL? Customer Relationship Management, p. 10.