Just how important is artificial intelligence (AI)? Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer, Dave Coplin, said recently that AI is “the most important technology that anybody on the planet is working on today.”
Investment fund MMC estimates that AI adoption has tripled in just 12 months, and in only three years, the proportion of enterprises with AI initiatives will have grown from one in 25 to one in three. A PwC report estimates that global GDP will be 14 percent higher in 2030 as a result of AI—the equivalent of $15.7 trillion, which is more than the current output of China and India combined. Goldman Sachs claims AI is a needle-moving technology for the global economy. Could this be simple hype? Some of it, possibly, but not all. Nearly every day brings news of additional technical breakthroughs and useful AI applications in a wide variety of use cases, such as:
- Accurate medical diagnostic tools and personalized drug treatment
- Boosting the amount of information carried over fiber-optic telecommunication networks
- Personalized tutoring, possibly transforming education
- Spotting fraud in expense reports
- Improving agriculture yields
- Helping with endangered wildlife protection
- Minimizing the impact of natural disasters
Increasing adoption will amplify a growing capabilities divergence between leaders and laggards. This is true both for countries and for companies.
Given the dramatic advances and dichotomy of views about the technologies, AI is a widely discussed topic in opinion pieces and news stories, conference keynotes, various surveys, and a recurrent theme in television and movies. This led the Edelman AI Center of Excellence and Edelman Intelligence business units to probe deeper, along with help from the World Economic Forum.
Public vs. Tech Experts: AI Sentiments & Viewpoints
In our recent Edelman AI survey, we wanted to determine current viewpoints, but also compare perceptions of the public with those of people who work most closely with AI technology, specifically senior tech executives working on AI development and deployment. We found that nearly 9-in-10 survey respondents from both groups believe AI is leading to a technological revolution.
The survey revealed a belief that AI will lead to far-ranging improvements. Both groups strongly believe that AI is leading to beneficial contributions across a variety of applications, especially with:
- Smart homes
- Personalized medicine
- Manufacturing improvements
- Creating smart toys
- Developing home assistive technologies for the elderly
Similarly, majorities in both groups see positive benefits from AI across virtually every industry. In addition to the technology industry, respondents see the most positive impacts for manufacturing, energy, telecommunications, biotech/life sciences and healthcare.
Given the breadth and depth of potential benefits, it is not surprising that both groups are generally optimistic about the long-term impact of AI, though the results clearly show that tech execs are more optimistic. This optimism delta between the groups was consistent across almost every question.
Worries about the ‘Dark Side of AI’
The survey also revealed some very real and troubling concerns. Strong majorities believe that the wealthy will benefit from AI, while nearly half expect the poor will be harmed.
Approximately 80 percent of respondents expect AI to invoke a reactionary response from those who feel threatened by the technology. Additionally, there are also worries about the dark side of AI, including concerns by nearly 70 percent about the potential loss of human intellectual capabilities as AI-powered applications increasingly make decisions for us. Furthermore, 7 in 10 are concerned about growing social isolation from an increased reliance on smart devices.
One of the more common AI discussions is the potential impact on jobs. This is probably incalculable, though many try to estimate, and the projections vary greatly. However, according to the survey, AI’s impact in the workplace is already a reality. For tech experts, more than 8 in 10 said AI is already having an impact while 6 in 10 of the general population agreed.
The survey also revealed the potential of AI being used as a powerful tool of division. Nearly 70 percent believe AI interjects greater possibilities for digitally enhanced “group think,” lessening creativity and freedom of thought. AI thrives on a lot of centralized information. As autocratic powers can access and leverage that content, they could increasingly control the levers of disinformation, thereby further manipulating their populations. Adding to that, nearly half expect AI-generated “deepfake” audio and visuals will further erode public trust in what is real, and a third believe these could lead to a war.
Developers are using AI-based deep learning technology—and thus the term deepfake—to generate highly realistic fake videos with real-looking lip movement, facial expression and background that can accompany manufactured audio. These deepfake videos mean it is now possible to portray someone—say, the leader of a country or the CEO of a major corporation—saying pretty much anything the video creator wants and in whatever setting they desire. The implications of deepfakes are staggering, further blurring the line between what is real and not real.
AI Curiosity > Fear
Despite these reservations, what comes through from the responses to questions and from verbatim quotes is an underlying curiosity—a desire to know where AI will lead us. Given a choice of words to describe how they feel about AI, “curiosity” wins out over “fear.” This is what drives us forward despite the apparent risks. It could be that Google CEO Sundar Pichai is right when he said at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos: “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.” And it is happening fast. In fact, AI may be the fastest paradigm shift in technology history.