Isaac Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ set out three major ways that robots and humans could coexist:
To not hurt a human
Its willingness to obey its master – unless instructed to hurt another human
Its duty to protect its own existence – without breaking laws one or two
These remain strong topics of conversation today. After more than 75 years, his expectations on robotics can hardly be compared to what we have today. Could Asimov have predicted that robots serve humans in the capacity they do? And although we don’t yet have our own C3PO droids, there is an undeniable presence of artificial intelligence in our lives. What started with image recognition and voice controls will soon help treat us medically and drive us to work each day. Simply put, the powers we give robots are increasing.
As cities around the world prepare for the inevitable arrival of autonomous vehicles, the fundamental fabric of our societies will change. Parents will no longer have to take their children to school, and the disabled will no longer need to rely on other people to venture out their homes. With these benefits come the inconvenient questions: just how much faith should we put in our self-driving cars?
The conventional argument that scientists often face is, should a car avoid a sharp turn and risk injuring a pedestrian? Should the vehicle prioritise the life of its passengers over a child who runs into the street? With the inclusion of AI in our commutes, machines must learn and understand certain ethics and morals that dictate these decisions. A correct decision may not be the right one, and if all actions are implemented through data and not instinct, it could result in the tragic – albeit mathematically correct – death of a child or loved one.
However, the inclusion of artificial intelligence is not all doom and gloom for future generations. There are many verticals that benefit from its services and make it an overall asset to industries. The healthcare sector is quickly adopting AI technologies that can help medical professionals spot and treat sicknesses among its patients. The radiology sector is inherently visual, making it the ideal field to benefit from image recognition technologies and services. In terms of streamlining the amount of increasing scans, machine learning and assistance can indeed help save lives, and this is unquestionably beneficial to doctors, institutions, and patients around the world. On top of easily scanning and flagging irregularities in CT and MRI scans, it could also help prescribe tailored pharmaceutical remedies for specific persons with acute ailments, having a significantly positive effect on our biomedical organs and recuperation.
Last year saw hundreds of CEOs from the robotics and AI communities come together and warn the UN against the use of autonomous weapons. Despite first appearing in the 1940s, today’s technology brings a myriad of problems and consequences to our future soldiers. The unimaginable horror that autonomous weapons could bring to our battlegrounds could fundamentally change our world for the worse. With no man or woman acting as a moral compass for deadly decisions each weapon could make, it has the potential to be catastrophic if AI does not act on ethical or moral grounds. While defenders suggest that autonomous tanks and vehicles could save soldiers on the ground, the chance of rogue machinery targeting small villages and communities when mathematically calculating collateral damage could be a severe error in ethics and in breech of the Laws of War.
There are many steps that need to be taken before we can safely decipher the risks and rewards of artificial intelligence. Critics of the technology will rush to disapprove of it upon the first fatality, and many tech leaders are already preparing on how to defend it. While there are clear benefits to the use of AI in our everyday lives, the risks involved with measuring the value of human life cannot be overstated. Either way, technology innovation has overtaken the rate of legal and ethical innovation – and it is time to play catch up.