This anecdote explains why you shouldn’t fear AI…yet

Why you shouldn't fear robots
Why you shouldn't fear robots   

We may be looking at about 5.1 million jobs being lost by 2020 due to artificial intelligence (AI) and modern technology, but an anecdote told during a CNBC panel last week in Davos highlights that there's not that much to fear just yet.

"I've watched all the sci-fi, terminator, Robocop…and do we have worry about that? Maybe someday, but not today. Let's be realistic about where we are. A good example that I heard recently was, what if you take an AI and you ask it a question? You say to your phone, when was Abraham Lincoln born? Well, it's going to recognize your voice, it's going to process it, look up in a database and give you an answer," Matthew Grob, chief technology officer at Qualcomm said.

"What if you say, how many feet does a camel have. Sorry, when you go and look up camel, it doesn't tell you how many feet it has, it doesn't answer that question, any four year old can answer that question."


Human-Machine co-existence

While many major technologists have painted a gloomy picture of a world where humans are replaced by robots, the panel held at CNBC's technology event at Davos addressed the opportunities of the so-called "fourth industrial revolution".

According to the chief executive of a major human resources and recruitment firm, humans and robots will need to co-exist.

"We are going to augment humans with technology tools for the most part so this is going to be a human and technology combination," Jonas Prising, CEO of Manpower Group, said.


Pepper the humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Group Corp., stands as employees work in the Orange Arch Inc. offices in Tokyo, Japan.
Tomohiro Ohsumi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pepper the humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Group Corp., stands as employees work in the Orange Arch Inc. offices in Tokyo, Japan.

"That's going to be one of society's biggest challenges to make sure that we accompany this transition, which we can already see, which is a difference to other industrial revolutions. We can control this so we need to have policies and strategies in place to accompany this change."

New type of job?

While many are focusing on the jobs being replaced, some experts said entirely new jobs, springing from the technological advances will be made.

Just as YouTube spurred the rise of vloggers or video bloggers, AI and robotics could breed some entirely new professions.

"One of the things we are going to see is some people will race and try out these new kinds of fun, interesting occupations which actually involve a lot of people and human interaction," Andrew Moore, the dean of the school of computer sciences at Carnegie Mellon University said.

"And so how do you feed a world where people are trying out these new things? One is education. You have to be able to give everyone tools to be able to go ahead with this."


Ethical responsibility

But what about those robots that go rogue? Figures from Tesla boss Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking have warned that a global robotic arms race "is virtually inevitable" and that autonomous weapons should be banned.

The threat is real given some of the advancements in areas such as drones, and technology companies need to take responsibility and care when designing AI systems.

"In many ways, AI and robotics will exceed human capabilities, that's probably why people get so excited or afraid," Harry Shum, Microsoft's head of technology and research said. Microsoft makes an AI personal assistant called Cortana which is installed on devices running Windows.

Shum outlined an example of a chatbot that Microsoft has designed in China where a real user can text and receive a reply from an AI software. He said that a large proportion of users were texting the word "I love you", showing how robotics could impact relationships. This is why companies should be careful when designing future technology.

"Talking about ethical problems you have to be very careful and thoughtful as we design these AI systems…We have the responsibility as we designed these kind of systems," Shum said.