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Utopia or dystopia? The AI jury remains out

July 18, 2016

Vinod Kumar   

Managing Director and Group CEO Tata Communications

At our recent CEO Summit we created the platform to debate one of the fundamental issues facing humanity – can man and intelligent machine coexist in harmony for the benefit of all?  The discussion was led by world-renowned experts and enraptured an audience of some 50 senior executives from all parts of the world and sectors of industry.

Of those businesses represented, 80% have deployed artificial intelligence or plan to do so in the next three years, and more than half of delegates agreed their enterprises required an HR strategy to anticipate the replacement of humans with machines.  The discussion was as timely as it was important.

The outcome of the debate was that the jury is still out.  Are we heading for a world where humans are dominated by intelligent machines? This dystopian vision could not be dismissed out of hand. Even Ken Goldberg, world-leading expert in robotics and confirmed optimist, told us that today robots “can make mistakes and share what they have learned with every other robot connected to the cloud.”

Will the human race adapt to the disruption promised by intelligent technology as well as it did to the agricultural, industrial and digital revolutions?  Will new jobs – jobs we have not thought of yet – be created for all those people whose tasks can – and are being – replaced by machines?

Those that look at history see humankind’s inherent ability to survive and believe it will all be OK.  Indeed, the onset of intelligent machines is but another step in humanity’s quest for a better life and perhaps presages the utopia where humanity will flourish like never before.

Others hold that this step is something fundamentally different. Society has to find a new structure beyond capitalism.  The concept that all people can gain an income by creating value through work has had its day.

While the discussion flowed back and forth, there were two common area of agreement. Firstly, from the Emotional Intelligence side, society had to get a grip of the governance and ethics behind the development and deployment of intelligent machines.  All delegates agreed that as business leaders they had a role and responsibility in that process.

From the technology side, the consensus was the exponential increase in Artificial Intelligence in business and society is driven by ubiquitous high speed connectivity and the ability to store and process vast quantities of data.  Smart machines are really happening because of the Internet and the cloud.

It is one thing to provide the platform for a debate about Artificial Intelligence, it is another to provide the platform for the next chapter in the story of humanity.  I am both humbled and proud of Tata Communications role in both.

Where do you see artificial intelligence having the most impact? Let us know in the comments below.