Artificial Intelligence – Our Devices and Us

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Artificial Intelligence or AI in simple terms is the field that studies the synthesis and analysis of computers and machines that learn over time how to act intelligently. It has become a field of interest for many. People love it. But the question is, do we fear it enough?

AI has, in recent days, frightened the tech tycoons, for they know what lies in coming future.
I’ll quote eminent scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking saying this – ‘’the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He says, the primitive form of AI developed so far have proved useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or even surpass human intelligence.

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Robot and human hands almost touching – 3D render. A modern take on the famous Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel; titled, “The Creation of Adam”.

Artificial Intelligence – The Advent

Recently, a friend of mine shared a video that shows how a computer has learned to play the legacy game Super Mario. All on itself, it was calculating its own path through the game, avoiding, or if required killing the enemies on its way, as the character Mario. This is one great advancement in the field of AI, and sure is going to help us take a step further to program, and develop self-driven, automated, independent robots, that are able to ‘decide’ on their own. Although it is in our hands, to limit their capabilities, and keep a check on the skills they possess, but, won’t they eventually learn to develop new ones, and possibly, overlook the preprogrammed commands? The scene would be, you will ask the machine to do a particular task. But, if the system ‘thinks’ it is not appropriate, and that there is a better way to do it, it will, abiding by the protocols that made it, override your commands, and do what it feels is right. Now it may seem funny at the moment, and we can laugh it off by saying the machine is just being adamant, and knows better. But, the machine is thinking, and developing its own logic. This logic will keep building up, the machines will keep thinking, and do what they feel is right for us. They will become totally independent, and we cannot stop them, because they will eventually learn to foresee our actions, and make efforts to save their likes. There will be a time when we have to declare wars against our own creation, to save our likes.

This may sound like the story of yet another sci-fi movie we have come in terms with in the past few decades. The Terminator movie series speaks volumes. We have watched the movies for personal entertainment. But there are deep dark fears. Fears that won’t trouble many of us in the living present, but will, in coming time. Machines have of course reduced human labor by a great extent. But these very machines have started interacting with us. Their reactions depend on our decisions. They are keeping an eye on us, on everything we do. Every key stroke we make, is being recorded, stored and analyzed. We are being judged. The computer, or tablet, or any device you are reading this on, knows about you. It knows everything about your past, is keeping a track of your present, and has an innate ability to predict your future actions too. Every character you type, every web page you visit, every input you make is stored somewhere. You have a database of your own qualities out there. And the machines know about it. We simply say the machine is becoming smarter, and it will do nothing but save us time. So much so, we have started calling simple voice based search applications our personal assistants. Google Now, Siri and Cortana have become more than search applications actually. Need to set an alarm? Feel the need to keep a reminder? Or simply, need a companion to drive away your boredom? These applications will do almost every other task you can think of, except the physical ones of course. Ask yourself, are we sure time saving is the sole purpose of all this melodrama?

This very year, in its I/O 2015, the search giant Google introduced Google Now on Tap. What it basically does, is learns about all your inputs in the device, and tries to predict what you are looking for, to save you time. With this, we don’t have to go in the search window and type the movie name to know more about it. By its so called contextual awareness, Google is reading everything that appears on your device screen, picks up key terms, say the movie you are discussing with your colleague, and with a single touch, it will bring you up full information about the movie, and even give you options to book your seats for the same. Sounds neat. As long as it is saving us a few seconds, we enjoy and appreciate its presence. What we are unaware of, is Google is developing a knowledge graph that makes prompt predictions possible, and more accurate. How do you think Google predicts our search results? Of course, using algorithms and the prevalent word database, it tries to finish the search term. But mind you, the same search term, is predicted differently based on your location too. Why only the big G in this case. Every app we download has a particular set of permissions we need to grant, before we install the app. We never bother to check what permissions we are granting the app. Just think about it, a simple game has access to your phonebook and all the contacts, just because we gave it permission for reading the same when installing it. It becomes even scarier. Not only it has access to the phonebook, it can also fiddle with your contacts, and call up, or send text messages, or further store their details on the cloud. Why, would a mobile game feel the need to read your contacts? Or why does a search app need access to our front camera or microphone? Silly.

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Google App has read my contacts 2203 times. Huff!

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…..without YOUR confirmation.

Take another instance. You search for a particular commodity on the web, say a particular footwear model. And you want to buy it, but maybe, at a later stage. Now the search engine has taken a record of your key strokes. Your search entry was noted down by the shopping portal, and you will be hit with advertisements of the same almost everywhere you go, luring you to get it. It has now learned about your preferences, and uses it, with or without your consent.
Need evidence? Chrome OS is an epitome here. Chrome OS is all about web applications. With limited offline storage, it urges its users to work and play using specifically optimized web applications. It is being touted as the OS of future. We are not readily embracing it now. But it is in true senses the OS of future, given the fact that we are steadily shifting towards cloud based storage (Won’t believe me? These folks do). I am not saying this questions our privacy. They don’t have any right to use our personal data in any form, without our approval. But the bottom line is, our data is being stored there. Period.

Think of it this way. A new species has already come into existence. A baby is born. I find an ultimate similarity between the way a human newborn develops and the way the digital world is developing. Just like a newborn, it observes us. Learns from us. Interacts with us. Follows our commands. But simultaneously, is also developing its own thinking. It is analyzing our steps, storing all our actions in its memory and is learning from our behavior. This is the present state, and we are developing it further. I am not saying your phones and computers right now have a brain of their own, and that they’ll soon start taking decisions on your behalf. But we will enable them to do so, some day. Just like a human, it will someday start speaking on its own (Or it already has?), start walking with us. It will, start interacting with the surrounding environment the way we do. It will, someday become independent, the way we are. What scares me more than its inception is, that it took humans millions of years to develop, but only a few decades for AI to grow.

Conclusion

You may call me naïve after reading this. People do, already. But cherish or perish. It is here to stay. We are surrounded by these newborns. They are literally everywhere. They are observing us. Staring at us, with their shiny glimmering eyes, like human newborns do. It poses a grave threat to our privacy and security. This apparent usurpation is all the more startling when we realize we cannot do anything but let it grow, and let it have access to all our data, willingly or unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly.

The next time you fire up camera on your phone, or text your friend, or lookup for something on the web, remember, you are being constantly watched, and judged. And think about it. We don’t even have our own backups on cloud.

 

 

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Let me know about your views on AI and its prevailing intervention down in the comments section.

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Technology nerd,AOSP fan,photographer,writer,and a learner.

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