A few of the world’s richest techie’s have come up with a plan to protect us while they research an even more high tech world. The threat they worry about is right off the pages of a “Terminator” movie script. Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Peter Theil of Paypal, in association with tech giants Infosys and Amazon, have pledged one billion dollars toward “OpenAI”, a non-profit research facility with the goal of building only well-behaved Artificial Intelligence… the kind that will do us no harm.

Theoretical Physicist, Stephen Hawking, like Musk, Theil, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak, has stated a belief that AI may be humanity's closest thing to a true "Pandora's Box". Hawking fears that once created these newly sentient electronic beings could use their superior capacity to increase their intelligence - rapidly evolving beyond human management - and relegate us to second-class citizenship. In a world where everything from transportation, power generation, and worldwide communications, to IV monitors and toasters can be remotely manipulated, it is a viable concern.

People in the tech world have already accepted that AI is coming. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, announced that his 2016 New Years resolution was to build an artificially intelligent butler to help him around the house. Facebook has a team dedicated to developing software for AI. Google has purchased “Deep Mind”, a British company that writes software to make computers “think like humans”.

The questions that need asking are; in what form and with what protections will this technology arrive? Will it simply be a matter of having a discussion with our washing machine about how white we want or clothes, or will it extend to fully functional “bots” taking over maintenance activities in our life – cooking, cleaning, bill paying, grocery buying. The vector is onward and upward. AI is happening and will be a part of our life very soon.

The fear, “OpenAI”, appears to be anticipating concerns non-techie people, (like me) who depend on external information sources provided by corporations and/or government, and how our hunger for more may push these companies to reach into dangerous theoretical territory. While they are looking to cash-in on these new technologies either industry or government could, inadvertently, create a self-aware electronic being.

The initial payout from AI has the potential to be huge. It includes the promise of a “Jetson’s” type future where all difficult, dirty and annoying work is accomplished by slave machines. Undoubtedly, the creators of such technology would promise a risk free process. However, should they be wrong, Stephan Hawking suggests the consequence may be life altering. We could become the slaves – or worse – superfluous to their needs.

“OpenAI” may have as its goal to ensure that all forms of Artificial Intelligence are clearly, and obviously, beneficial for humankind - but the question arises, who are they to make such a value judgment?

Just consider for instance that we, as in all of humanity on this planet, presently encompass a range of diverse societies. Some believe dying, when done for the right reasons, is the ultimate achievement in life, and is followed by eternity in the good graces of their God. Other societies have as their goal to live forever in a youthful and attractive form, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and status. The capitalist, materialist vision versus the mortal-life-is-Hell and all true rewards come in the afterlife vision.

This is just a sampling. Millions of variations exist. In fact, it is quite possible that each of us has a unique vision for what exactly is the perfect future - but not everyone has a say. Elon Musk, Peter Theil, Infosys, Amazon, Google, Mark Zuckerberg; they will have a say and, although their intelligence in undeniable and their philanthropy is well established, the high-tech crowd isn't exactly a microcosm of world diversity. Other insights may be needed. Yet, even then, who among us has enough knowledge and understanding to truly know what the future of humankind should be, and what role intelligent machines should play in it... if any?

Artificial Intelligence isn't just about developing cool toys or work-saving “bots”. In a world where a machine in everyone's home can perform millions of actions at light speed, have access to virtually every piece of information on the planet, do it all wirelessly, and without the restraint of human emotions – to write an algorithm giving even one of them a sense of self – an ego – would make them potentially the most powerful being on Earth. Who can you really trust to protect us from that?

         Part Two

Have you ever thought about why we need Artificial Intelligence? It’s obvious why industry needs smart robots. They work cheap. They can be on the job twenty four/seven. Their productivity is measurable, reliable and repeatable. They don’t argue or complain or object to what they are told. They are, in effect, ideal employees. They even problem solve. What industry wouldn’t want more of them? But why do you and I need them?

Technology has arrived at a point where the sophistication level of AI machines is increasing rapidly - and, so too, is our investment in building them. They are presently in a cascading creative environment and very soon we will see these AI machines showing up and replacing entire skill sets within industry.

People take time to learn. In the case of some medical professionals or academics it takes over a decade to complete their studies. On the other hand, once a comprehensive software program is written it can be installed in an endless number of intelligent machines. Programming AI takes seconds, and can be designed to accept continuous updates incorporating all the latest information. Of the human/machine options which do you think corporations, or consumers, will view as the best choice.

Take for instance taxis. When you have cars that drive themselves, and can be called by simply accessing a phone app, and their position and distance traveled is measured and monitored by GPS, all you need is a credit card and a place to swipe it - so why have taxi drivers? The same can be said for delivery vehicles or buses. Who needs a driver?

Education is moving online. Whether in a bricks and mortar school or from home, the same lessons can be beamed in, and the same interactive communication can be initiated. Even now it's possible to go from Kindergarten to a graduate degree without attending a regular school.

Thanks largely to the American desire for avoiding universal medical coverage, a substantial effort is being put toward artificially simulating doctors. Imagine this scenario; you walk into a clinic, sit in front of a technician (or robot) who feeds your symptoms into a computer, you answer comprehensive follow up questions supplied by a program, (which has access to all of the most up-to-date medical knowledge in the World), and within minutes, you are supplied with either a diagnosis and a prescription, or moved on to a different station for supplemental tests and scans. This is in the works, and Medical Doctor’s may not be major players in the process.

It may sound fantastic but when you think about it you begin to realize that the ultimate goal of AI is to eliminate everyone from the workforce, not just labourers and assembly line workers. They are the easy ones. Whether this is achievable is up for debate but the possibility of it causing massive job displacement isn't. Whole industries will soon find themselves instantly at risk - and what does society do with people who lose careers that took years of training and study?

Governments are constantly promising to create and protect jobs. It's such a fundamental and important goal they appear willing to put in jeopardy our environment, our health, our safety, all with this justification in mind. Yet, we are channeling toward a future where jobs will be ever more scarce - and no effort is being made to seriously anticipate the outcomes. No career, no trade, no profession has been deemed sacrosanct - and given the incredible amount of money being applied, and the results being achieved, we have to believe that this is going to happen fast.

How will we adapt? Consider that even if you are a business owner salivating over the prospect of replacing a great portion of your work force with intelligent machines, what happens when this becomes a widespread phenomena? More bluntly stated, who is going to buy your product if fewer people are working?

The unspoken goal of artificial intelligence is to replace us as employees. These machines will be smarter, faster, stronger, more reliable, less demanding, and cheaper to employ. Sorry people, it may hurt to admit it but when it comes to employment we, as living, breathing, human beings, will not be able to compete. And competition, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your ideology), is the lifeblood of our entire economic system. We have enshrined its principles in our institutions and absorbed them within our personalities. How will we structure our lives once we have been deemed obsolescent by mechanized intelligence?

When the AI Economy takes over will we all go on some kind of guaranteed annual income and live a subsistence lifestyle based on minimal remuneration from government? That would hardly support the kind of living we have been taught to believe in. What does a nation do with 80% unemployment, or 40%, when even 20% now puts us in a severe depression? This trend toward AI will create situations our societies have never previously encountered. Basic changes to our value systems are inevitable. We may have to re-think our goals as individuals and nations - and do it quickly. The window of opportunity to absorb whatever negative impacts these changes provide could close in a hurry - and the subsequent upheavals could create desperation and conflicts. It’s time we took a more comprehensive look at this whole AI reality.