Are we ready to harness our own creation – Artificial intelligence?

IFTM Comments is a partnership between Macau News Agency and Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

By Louis, Vong Tze Ngai

It wasn’t too long ago that artificial intelligence was still seen as an experimental endeavor carried out in some far away scientific labs. Not anymore. Today, artificial intelligence has become a tangible reality that can change the world as we know it. The big leap forward of artificial intelligence has not only allowed us to transform fancy ideas (e.g. self-driving cars) into authentic real-world experiences, but it can also make the previously unthinkable thinkable (e.g. AI-monitored artificial womb in the making). While artificial intelligence has created virtually endless possibilities, not every kind of possibility is perceived to be pleasant.

Louis, Vong Tze Ngai, Assistant Professor at IFTM

The launch of ChatGPT is undoubtedly a wake-up call to the many specialists and professionals who believe that they are irreplaceable at work. The invention of this AI tool has led many pundits to forewarn that artificial intelligence will decimate the job market and displace millions of workers in the years to come. As artificial intelligence continues to evolve at an astonishing pace, futurists have made audacious predictions that hyper-intelligent robots will one day overthrow humans and rule Planet Earth. Humans are hardwired to fear the unknown.

The seemingly almighty artificial intelligence has stirred up fear, worry, and anxiety in many people. Nevertheless, it would be unwise for humans to nip AI technology in the bud. Human history is a history of modernization built on technological progress. Our world is better off now than at any point in human history because of the many technological milestones we have achieved, including but not limited to the light bulb, telephone, automobile, computer, and many other game-changing technologies which together have radically changed the life trajectory of many people.

As it stands, the development of human-level artificial intelligence will be our next milestone. To the many folks who worry about the impact of artificial intelligence on people’s livelihood, history has informed us that technological revolution normally follows a predictable pattern: there will be hiccups (transient or persistent) in the job market where many existing jobs will be deemed obsolete, but at the same time, many more new types of jobs will also be created.

The birth of the automobile industry a century ago is a case in point: chariot coachmen were forever replaced by chauffeurs but travelling has since become more efficient and comfortable.  Thus, change may be painful but with change, we build a better tomorrow. Besides, technological breakthroughs may not always end up in a win-lose scenario where existing jobs or businesses would be replaced by new ones. Forward-looking businesses and organizations can leverage new technologies to transform themselves to better fit the world of tomorrow

Take a look at the countless micro, small and medium enterprises which have shrewdly marketed their products and services to a much larger customer population using e-commerce platforms such as Taobao. If there is one critical lesson that we have learnt from this Taobao village phenomenon, it is the importance of understanding the implications arising from technological breakthroughs and leveraging technology to our advantage. This brings us back to our discussion about artificial intelligence.

Since this cutting-edge technology is still in its early stage of development, it is too early to judge if this stunning invention will do more harm than good to humanity. Throughout history, technological innovation has always been a double-edged sword: technology is a boon if it is used judiciously and a bane if it is used for any evil purpose. The pressing issue that our society now faces may have less to do with contemplating the possibility of artificial intelligence on human societies, but more to do with whether we as humans are morally and ethically ready to harness our greatest invention of all time for the betterment of mankind. As the saying goes, ‘Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power’ (Jonathan Sacks). As humans, we need to choose our own destiny and never let destiny chooses us.