Artificial intelligence

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

I do not currently perceive what is called “artificial intelligence” as such; the computers are not “intelligent,” do not have self-awareness and do not understand what they are creating. But the term is catchy and I don’t see it going away any time soon.

I prefer the term “machine learning,” as I believe that is currently closer to what is actually going on. Computer programmers are becoming extraordinarily talented at writing incredibly complex programs to provide us with computer-based sources of information.

There is quite a lot of information available as to the differences in meaning of the two terms, but many consider them interchangeable.

From my perspective, having computers attain a higher level of complexity and being able to compute to levels mimicking human thinking may have substantial advantages and benefits.

Since the Industrial Revolution, progress in technology has often provided benefits for many, as well as making many forms of labor no longer necessary. This happened with picking cotton, operating elevators and toll booth personnel and will happen with car and truck drivers as self-driving vehicles appear.

My thinking about what will happen in the near future is that self-driving vehicles will become ubiquitous in the next 10 years. I think that businesses such as the U.S. Post Office, Amazon, UPS, FedEx, Lyft and Uber will replace human drivers with autonomous vehicles and robots.

Those businesses that travel on more or less repetitive, local routes can implement self-driving vehicles and no longer need humans to drive and deliver products.

Target and Walmart will most likely implement food deliveries to neighboring households in a similar manner. Removing the cost of paying people will be a priority for them.

I think the next big wave will be long-haul truck drivers. Being able to have trucks drive thousands of miles without the need for restricting people needing to rest up, needing only to refuel, will be a boon for those businesses.

Surely, there will be accidents, mishaps and other problems as these new technologies appear. Many people I have spoken with worry about car accidents due to self-driving vehicles. While I believe these concerns are legitimate, let’s put this in perspective:

Currently, over 42,000 people die annually in traffic accidents. Of those, over 13,000 die due to drunk driving.

I believe those numbers will decrease dramatically when autonomous vehicles have been in place for several years. In my opinion, the decrease in injuries and fatalities will more than make up for those early difficulties.

I also see a time when older drivers no longer have to have painful arguments regarding having their car keys taken away with the drama surrounding those events. With self-driving cars, I look forward to my later years, being able to get into my car and ask “Reginald” to drive me to the mall or restaurant. I see being able to go places at night after I no longer feel comfortable driving at night.

I foresee people who may have had a bit too much to drink being able to get driven safely home by their self-driving car.

I see the first autonomous business vehicles being implemented in the next five years and similar personal vehicles in the next 10. Businesses have vested interests in promoting these events.

Further down the road, I see machine intelligence getting close to artificial intelligence as medical personnel become replaced by robots. Isaac Asimov promoted the basic Laws of Robotics in the 1950s, delineating the three laws that all robots must obey. I see those concepts being incorporated in all “artificially intelligent” robots.

I also see how better computing power can help us learn better. Tablets with more advanced computation can help us learn all subjects more readily as they become more accessible. Computers can be endlessly patient and let us learn a new language or algebra by understanding our obstacles and working with us to overcome them.

I look forward to the future of AI.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at akoenigsberg@mac.com.

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