Artificial intelligence refers to the field of study concerning the capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behavior. Artificial Intelligence as a field of research originates with Dartmouth College, a private Ivy League University in the U.S., which held a conference in 1956 for an artificial intelligence research project. Thanks to the influence of popular culture, however, many of us are familiar with the term or concept because we’ve watched 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Terminator. Last week, when Stephen Hawking, a world-famous British theoretical physicist, commented “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”, you may not have been the only one imagining silver cyborgs plotting our downfall.
The field of Artificial Intelligence and the debate surrounding it is fascinating and has always been a popular theme in literature and film – it seems like people enjoy nothing more than to fantasize about man’s destruction. But how accurate is Hawking? Depending on who you ask, answers seem to vary between complete disagreement to something more like “perhaps, but not for a very long time”.
Certainly, artificial intelligence is already around us and many low-paying jobs have been lost to machines which can do the job just as well, if not better. It’s easy to imagine a future where we commute to work on trains and buses with no human at the controls, and maybe even Ridley Scott’s terrifying self-automated surgical operation in the film Prometheus isn’t a stretch. In Japan, the combination of an ageing population coupled with declining birthrate plus a general unwillingness towards increased numbers of immigrants in the workforce means that artificial intelligence is the only real option and one which many firms such as Toyota and Honda as well as the healthcare industry are investing in.
There is no doubt that artificial intelligence is already changing our lives, but whether machines and computers reach full artificial intelligence and whether this becomes a force for good or for destruction remains to be seen. If popular film plots are anything to go by, we will have been wiped out by aliens, giant meteorites or a return of the bubonic plague before we even have a chance to find out.