Social Inequality and AI

The next seismic shift in society is going to be in artificial intelligence. We’ve already made significant leaps with driverless cars and unmanned grocery stores. However, the spread of fake news and its influence on the US elections have also underscored the risks that AI brings.

The fact is, AI is only going to get exponentially more advanced.

I’m not only worried that jobs are going to be automated away but that the power balance will be unequally skewed towards the very few at the top and that many are still blissfully unaware that we are on the cusp of significant change.

In the UK, employment has already been moving away from low-skilled to high-skilled jobs as jobs are automated away. At the same time, high-skilled jobs are also rewarded more generously as their skills become more in demand. This is only contributing to rising inequality.

Equally worrying is documented cases where AI has been used maliciously or unwittingly in manipulating people’s opinions. Facebook has already demonstrated how they can influence people’s moods by algorithmically altering their newsfeed. Russian agents have proven that it’s possible to influence an election by creating fake news stories. This has a perverse effect on our democratic process.

Advances in AI have been made possible by the volume of data collection. And we have readily given up our data in the interest of convenience. Why wouldn’t you let Google know where you work and live when at any time, it can easily tell you how to get home from wherever you are?

There is a lot of uncertainty over what the next five years will look like and there is no way to know the pace of change. But the above are actually scenarios that are playing out right now and we have barely moved the needle in finding a solution. This is even before unpacking the consequences of a superintelligent AI, which many great thinkers from Stephen Hawking to Nick Bostrom have cautioned could spell the end of humanity in the not very distant future.

Above all, what I’ve found most startling is how this further highlights the fact that the gains in AI are going to disproportionately benefit those with the know-how. Not only do they benefit from higher paying jobs, they are also in a position to make design decisions that can manipulate the masses.

Humanity have proven to be resilient and although I’ve painted a gloomy picture, I sincerely believe there is a brighter future ahead. Through the advances in technology, anyone can access the entirety of human knowledge from anywhere in the world through the Internet. In the same vein, AI can make medical advances that could reduce mortality and allow for a world where an abundance of resources could eliminate the vast majority of work, providing the benefits can be shared more equally.

We just need to work together to ensure that we don’t leave anyone behind and that we harness AI for the better of humankind.

Written on March 31, 2019