AI: An opportunity or threat?

Sophia at the AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva last year. Net photo.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has brought about remarkable innovations in the world of technology.

Artificial Intelligence is defined as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages.

From the invention of self-driving cars and Olly – a robot with a personality that comes from a mix of machine learning algorithms – this form of technology has also seen the creation of humanoid robots such as Sophia that cannot only make conversation with humans but can also perform extraordinary tasks such as conducting interviews and attending conferences.

Sophia, the robot set to feature at next month’s Transform Africa summit in Kigali, has citizenship and was named by the United Nations Development Programme’s first ever innovation champion.

This illustrates the rising power of artificial intelligence.

Yet, despite such mind-blowing innovations some people, including experts, are still sceptical about these technologies, especially on the likely impact on society.

In an interview with BBC, Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates expressed his concerns, noting that AI will change the world.

He said human beings should be worried about the threat posed by AI and that he didn’t understand people who were not troubled by the possibility that AI could grow too strong for people to control.

“First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern,” he was quoted.

Bobson Rugambwa, an entrepreneur and software engineer, believes that AI can be both advantageous and risky depending on how it is used.

He noted that how people apply these technologies, especially in the field of medicine, biotechnology/agriculture will have far reaching impact on the African continent.  

In the hands of good people, he reasons, AI applications can be used to improve our ability to, for example, diagnose diseases, and predict weather patterns or even train machines to do repetitive tasks with greater accuracy than human beings.

Mutabazi Gakuba, an IT specialist, disagrees, arguing that even as this form of technology has come with obvious benefits to society, the risks associated with it shouldn’t be ignored.

“AI should be kept on a leash; we shouldn’t let this whole thing spiral out of control. Otherwise, we might remember to take control when it is too late to do anything about it,” he says.

It’s not all bad with AI

Author Toby Sakata once wrote that; “technology could save a life, but might also steal your data and call you names.”

According to research from Stanford University’s inaugural AI index, 84 per cent of enterprises believe that investing in AI will lead to greater competitive advantages.

Seventy-five per cent believe that AI will open new business, while also providing competitors new ways to gain access to their markets and 63 per cent believe the pressure to reduce costs will require the use of AI.

Sabine Umuhoza, a Facilitator at We Code – a network of software professionals in Rwanda –, says AI’s capacity to imitate intelligent human behaviour facilitates growth at a rate that can only catapult a country’s immense development.

In other words, she explains, with AI it is all about giving the ability to those devices so that they can perform a certain task more effectively and faster than a human being.

AI is making tremendous changes in areas such as mapping and analysing the requirements of post-earthquake reconstruction needs.

“Since Artificial Intelligence is applied in fields such as power plant, medicine, and telecommunication among others, I think if tested and regularly maintained, artificial intelligence systems is an opportunity to society,” Umuhoza says.

Clement Uwajeneza, a technology entrepreneur shares his view saying that the pros of AI are that it will empower humanity to do and achieve more.

The cons on the other hand can come when humans rely much on it, he warns.

“A simple or simplistic example: If I am able to communicate with a Chinese because I leverage AI to instantly translate what I am saying in Kinyarwanda into Chinese, I will be tremendously improving my potential to do business in China.

However, if this AI fails me and no longer does the translation right, it can lead to catastrophic outcomes like the Chinese counterpart feeling insulted.”

Uwajeneza points out that technology has always raised such fears of growing unemployment, saying that this shouldn’t be the case however.

“When computers came, I am certain people feared that by the computer allowing individuals to do more in a short time it will result in less jobs, so was the case when the internet came. I believe that AI will increase our productivity and, therefore, our potential to generate wealth that in turn provides more jobs that we necessarily do not know about today,” he explains.

AI is broad and it powers different technologies, the same way AI can make it easier to discover the most accurate content on the web, it is the same way it can be used by a hacker to effectively predict passwords in a deceitful way, Uwajeneza notes.

“What we really need to do is to make sure the majority of people, especially those with abilities to build those tools, have good intents rather than be ill-intentioned.”




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