Artificial Intelligence: What side of the Force will it be?

Artificial Intelligence: What side of the Force will it be? 500 213 Alexia Keller

As with all new innovations entering uncharted territory, speculations about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)’s future are unsurprisingly causing a wide variety of reactions across the academic, professional and even social, everyday world. Amongst this whirlwind of opinions, there are a lot of over inflated statements and out of context quotes being bandied around. Needless to say, this distracts from the actual points we should be focusing on to help us guide the development of A.I. into a future that can benefit us all. For this reason, let’s try to swat away some of the haze and get a clearer overview of what the actual top-line concerns and opportunities are when it comes down to A.I. 

Defining A.I. 

Defining and recognising A.I. can be difficult and doesn’t come without controversy. Technological developments in machine learning and big data algorithms are surfacing aspects that some already define as A.I. whilst others don’t. 

At its core, Artificial Intelligence can be seen as an attempt to simulate and replicate aspects of human intelligence using technology. A helpful way to understand A.I. is to see it as being made up of two different categories: 

  • General AI, which seeks to create an all-rounded replication of human intelligence 
  • Narrow AI, where technology outperforms humans in a specific task such as recommending a music playlist or a self driving car

We’re very much at the beginning of an age where we’ll see increasing improvements, developments and applications of narrow A.I.. However, despite its rapid advancement, it’s unlikely that we’ll face human-like, general A.I. next week. Either way, narrow A.I. is already causing a whole host of opportunities and threats that need to be considered. The stakes are high and foundations to support developments in A.I. need to be laid down whilst we’re still at the beginning of this journey. 

The Light side of the Force: Opportunities of A.I. 

A.I. has been heralded as the harbinger of great potential for a variety of reasons.

Greater efficiency:

From flying warehouse drones and hyperfast data analysis to being able to predict the future, A.I. has already (and can increasingly) help individuals, businesses and countries gain greater efficiency, which will result in saving time, money and resources. Saving time can be spent on more fulfilling tasks, enable faster delivery of services and/or quicker production of goods to meet our world’s growing demands. Saving money can help us economise, allow for greater investment in Research and Development (R&D) and enable the funding of marginalised projects or sidelined passions. Finally, saving resources can help us tackle our world’s growing waste problem and the drainage of finite resources. 

Improved accuracy: 

A.I. can help us uncover better insights into markets, ourselves and our planet by reducing human errors or even reaching new levels of accuracy that are currently impossible for us to achieve on our own. The evolution of what we now call big data, comprises of so much information, that Artificial Intelligence may be our best hope to extract valuable knowledge from such mounds of data. For instance, improved predictions could foresee the likelihood of natural disasters or a person’s propensity for diabetes.

Decision making & problem solving:

As the world continues to be increasingly interconnected, complex and fast, humanity will struggle to make certain decisions. Artificial intelligence represents a significant opportunity to assist us with these difficulties by providing less biased, more accurate options that can help us manage and meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. 

The above is by no means an exhaustive list of A.I.’s opportunities.. Yet, these three categories can help you frame the many brilliant projects and inspiring ideas taking place every year, which provide us with an optimistic view of AI’s potential as a sensational tool and not a world-wrecking threat.  

The Dark side of the Force: Threats of A.I. 

So, should we all keep calm and carry on? Well, yes and no. Keeping calm and recognising the many opportunities A.I. presents is key but so is recognising the challenges it poses. Most of these threats will need to be deflected if we truly want to enjoy all of the benefits A.I. can bring us.  


This is a significant worry, particularly with general AI that we may develop in the future. Misalignment means failing to synchronise the A.I.’s goal with it’s creator’s goal. In an extreme futuristic case, this could lead us to build A.I. technologies that are meant to help us but due to lack of specificity, interpret their goal in unforeseen ways; picture nearly every sci-fi cyber dystopian climax ever made. Even with narrow A.I., being aware of the technology’s goals is crucial. For example, the ethical challenge of building self driving cars has recently been discussed more publicly. In the event of an approaching accident, should a smart car’s goal be to keep its driver safe or minimise the number of lives affected by the accident? These types of decisions need to be taken when creating A.I. technology and will increasingly unlock contentious ethical issues. 

Control & access:

As ever, whoever builds and controls a piece of A.I. will dictate what that A.I. does and reflect that individual, organisation or nation’s ethical beliefs and goals. Programming is not unbiased and innovations are often used to leverage power and status. We may recognise these as unfortunate, unavoidable realities of the world but when it comes to A.I., the consequences of having a 1% strata having access to it or A.I. technologies being developed by ill-intentioned entities, could mean a whole new level of devastating repercussions

Predictable & unpredictable consequences:

Whatever A.I. technology is used for, it will have consequences. Some of the more predictable effects of A.I., such as greater automation, can already be seen to cause changes in the workplace and future job market. However, turning the workplace upside down may unleash a host of other economic and social challenges that are yet to be preemptively dealt with. The use of A.I. technologies is also likely to mean more sophisticated data insights, which may bring us significant benefits as well as intrusive practices, erroneous predictions or information we may simply not wish to know. Moreover, this leads to the risks of experiencing new forms of discrimination and social categorisations. Beyond this, we also need to accept that A.I. technologies will have unpredictable consequences that we aren’t yet aware of but may struggle to deal with.

Some of the threats mentioned above may be diluted in the coming years as better regulations and laws are introduced, but others will still need more discussions and even new systems. Either way, A.I. technologies should not be taken lightheartedly: the depth of opportunities it presents is mirrored by equally deep, complex challenges. 

What now? 

We can’t go backwards and stop progress. A.I. technologies have begun to be developed and trying to curb them out of existence will likely lead to illegal development procedures taking place outside of the public limelight. Despite posing valid threats, A.I. is by far not all doom and gloom. As we saw, A.I. technologies present a wide range of benefits and opportunities that could genuinely ‘make the world a better place’ if used properly. 

Instead of denial or outright opposition to A.I. technology, humanity is better off having an open discussion on the opportunities and threats of A.I., with the hope of guiding it to a bright and optimistic future. One thing we know for sure though is that if we want to deal with A.I. technology’s many facets, we will need universal cooperation to achieve it. Whatever side of the Force A.I. will be on, will ultimately depend on us.

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