There’s a saying by Sophocles, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” For someone born in 400 BC, he made a pretty accurate forecast on what life would be like centuries later. Only that it’s not just a curse; it has become a way of life.

Artificial intelligence seems to be the latest talk of the town, with numerous digital platforms offering courses on it, students making projects related to AI, and top companies recruiting based on your knowledge in the field. AI is the mastermind behind your spelling-proof essays and the intelligence behind fraud credit card detection. If it weren’t for AI, we wouldn’t have a Siri to schedule our meetings or an Alexa to switch off the lights. Recent studies at the University of Central Florida show that artificial intelligence can be nearly as accurate as a physician in diagnosing COVID-19 in the lungs. Researchers demonstrated that AI algorithms could be trained to classify COVID-19 pneumonia in computed tomography scans with up to 90% accuracy as well as correctly identify positive cases 83% of the time. So basically, an AI-driven society is only going to ease our lives and automate boring, repetitive tasks, right? Well, long story short, no. We are utterly naive to the flip side of the coin.

(None of these people exists. They were all fabricated via artificial intelligence algorithms. Yes, we are equally creeped out.)

Computers are getting smarter year after year. Compared to the 1960s, processing power has gone up a trillion times. This, coupled with its exponentially increasing intelligence, is what formulates the AI dilemma our world is currently facing. Machine learning predictions are indeed powerful, but the fact that Google can predict what advertisements to show you when is nothing short of a breach of privacy. There’s a reason your credit card falls prey to Amazon every other day. It’s almost like algorithms know you better than you know yourself.

The scariest part about the rumour that your phone is secretly always listening to you is that it’s not a rumour. The Big Four and other tech companies are constantly stealing our data and often, we hardly know it. The Guardian revealed that Apple employees would regularly listen to and grade Siri recordings, even ones that were meant to be confidential. This included medical information and even drug deals. This data is then fed to intelligent machines only to make them stronger and more intelligent and make us growingly dependent on them. Though AI researchers may defensively claim that only Luddites are afraid of AI’s immense potential, I think it’s crystal clear that the path we’re heading towards is a highly risky one and even a slight divergence could have detrimental impacts.

(Sophia, the humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics, imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is even able to make conversations on certain predefined topics.)

There’s a reason why the 500 billion-dollar company Facebook has only 50 thousand employees - the rest of them aren’t human. AI is riding an exponentially curved roller-coaster and it won’t be long before we rename it superintelligence. The point where artificial intelligence meets human intelligence isn’t hazy anymore, but as long we are heedful of our actions and wary of its implications, the human race stays within humans.

Shaheen Rafiq