Challenges, Ethical Concerns, And Global Race For Technological Dominance

Advancing from concept to reality, Artificial Intelligence spans various sectors, impacting healthcare, art, movies, and more. Ethical issues, like privacy and jobs, need attention. India is taking steps towards ethical AI development, and the global AI landscape is led by the U.S. and China, with opportunities and challenges ahead. Building ethical and legal foundations for AI is crucial for responsible development
Dr Mohan Kanda
  • AI’s historical roots span ancient times, with Greek mythology and solidify in the mid-20th century through Turing and McCarthy
  • AI transforms theatre by scripting and directing plays. Algorithms analyze existing plays, grasp structure, and craft innovative scripts
  • India, scoring 3.09, leads in AI skill penetration, ranking first globally. It secures first and fifth ranks in AI talent and publications
  • Australia, Canada, the US, China, France, Germany, and the UK shift from fossil fuels to renewables for energy production

UNTIL the advent of machine learning, computers and the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it was widely accepted that intelligence or the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, was a faculty confined to the realm of living beings. It is estimated that human beings began to use language, symbolic reasoning and intelligence about 200,000 years ago. The idea that intelligence is a quality that can also be mimed by non living entities, such as robots and machines, took shape very early in the history of human beings. That quality is now known as AI, a word first coined by John McCarthy the distinguished American computer scientist in 1955 in a workshop at Dartmouth University.

AI means the ability of machines to learn and understand things, and to do tasks that imitate human mental processes, like learning, reasoning, and perception. It is widely used in various aspects of everyday life, from virtual assistants to recommendation systems and autonomous vehicles. It has gone through a remarkable evolution, advancing through different stages, since it started as an idea and has now become a powerful force, affecting various sectors. It is transforming industries and making the jobs and lives of millions of people easier. All one needs is an idea, and the right tool, to use AI for the tasks one does every day. It is no longer a far-fetched idea, but a practical tool that changes our daily tasks, and improves productivity. It has moved from research labs to real-world applications across industries.

FROM MYTHOLOGY TO MCCARTHY’S COINED TERM

AI’s roots can be traced back to ancient times, with early concepts emerging in Greek mythology. However, the formal inception occurred in the mid-20th century, when scientists and researchers began exploring the possibility that machines could mimic human intelligence. Initially pioneers like Alan Turing and John McCarthy laid the foundation with their groundbreaking work. In its initial phase of development, AI focused on symbolic reasoning and rule-based systems. Early systems, which were designed to mimic human logic, and decision-making, using explicit programming, however, faced limitations in handling complex, real-world scenarios.

The advent of machine learning marked the next significant shift in AI development. Notable achievements of that phase included the success of deep neural networks, in winning competitions, and surpassing human performance, in various domains.

Subsequently, in the late 1960s and 1970s, a period, known as the “AI winter,” set in, marked by diminished funding, and waning interest, largely on account of unmet expectations, and technical challenges. AI faced scepticism as progress did not align with optimistic predictions. Later on, a rapid acceleration took place, and by 1989, neural networks were being used to assess credit risk. The rapid acceleration continued, in the 21st century, driven by the availability of vast amounts of data and increased computing power.

REVOLUTIONISING DIVERSE DOMAINS

AI is also useful in improving writing skills, creating resumès or curriculum vitae, writing dialogue for enhancing storytelling and creating an effective dialogue throughout a piece, and practising for interviews is now helping writers. It can also enable smart homes to recognize, and respond, to the needs and preferences of homeowners, and, according to recent studies, it may be able to automate about 39 per cent of domestic work within the coming 10 years. Many other sectors, such as healthcare and financial sector and playing games, such as chess or bridge, are areas where AI is beginning to prove of significant value.

New areas, such as aviation, and controlling movement of spacecraft, are also benefiting from AI, from steering rockets, to studying the surfaces of distant planets, measuring the size of the universe, and calculating the trajectories of celestial bodies. AI is also helping evolution of auto pilot technology, using which, self – piloted commercial aircraft can autonomously take off and land, and also navigate and detect ground obstacles. Improving artistic creations, by reimaging an existing piece of art, in a particular artistic style or tools, is helping artists create entirely new pieces of visual art, videos and music, an activity in which AI is proving of considerable use.

The versatility of AI has created many hitherto unknown opportunities for increasing the efficiency of people. Speech recognition, such as the facility provided by the appliance on a smartphone, works by using AI to analyse voice, language and the words being spoken, and then converting them into text from, Gayathri, my granddaughter, taught me the technique and, over the last few years, I have actually written whole books using it.

Many of the law enforcing agencies, across the world, are also finding AI extremely useful, in discovering the most up-to-date solutions to prevent crime. One such solution is ‘facial recognition’. Even public safety, and criminal justice are benefiting from AI, as example, in traffic safety systems, by helping in identifying violations, and enforcing the rules of the road.

AI-POWERED CLIMATE SOLUTIONS

Climate change has, for quite some time now, become a cause for worldwide concern, if not alarm, as a global emergency, challenging scientists, engineers, and industry experts, from a wide array of disciplines, to use their knowledge and skills, in pursuit of solutions to protect our planet. Not surprisingly, some of those solutions are likely to be made possible by AI. In recent years, governments of countries such as Australia, Canada, the United States, People’s Republic of China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have begun to phase out fossil based solutions for energy production, and started to embrace technologies based on renewable energy sources. In that effort, AI driven smart grids can help by balancing supply and demand, facilitating the integration of renewables into energy systems, and reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, AI technology can help track carbon footprints of large corporations, monitor changes in land use, which impact on climate change and help generate eco–friendly ideas, apart from providing warnings about environmental hazards.

INDISPENSABLE ROLE IN DISASTER MANAGEMENT

AI has vast scope for application in Disaster Management (DM), spanning the entire canvas, from early warning and forecasting, through prevention, preparedness, rescue, recovery and reconstruction. It has become an indispensable asset in DM, especially in light of the increasing frequency, and ferocity, of natural disasters, including those attributed to climate change. The ability of AI tools to capture real-time information allows disaster response teams to prioritise areas needing immediate attention and plan accordingly, significantly improving their efficiency and effectiveness. The system also aids in recovery planning by identifying areas at risk of future disasters.

One of the most notable uses of AI, in the field of waste recycling, is identification and separation of waste through visual perception. It can not only save money by reducing overheads such as the number of trucks that go out, but also boost turnover, by reducing contamination, resulting in higher-grade recycled products. It can also reduce the need for people to carry out dangerous tasks, such as sorting e-waste.

Interestingly enough, advances in AI, particularly the use of natural language processing and machine learning, are finding use even in supporting the work of diplomats, including the preparation of negotiations and research.

AI IN ART, ENTERTAINMENT, AND BEYOND

The film industry, not one to be left behind, is utilising AI and machine learning too, in a way that will transform the way movies are produced and edited. From generating realistic visual effects to streamlining post-production workflows, AI is becoming an essential tool in the movie-making pipeline. Similarly, in the realm of theatre, it has been instrumental in scripting and directing plays. Algorithms are now capable of analysing a vast array of plays, understanding their structure, and creating new scripts. These AI-generated scripts challenge traditional norms and introduce a fresh perspective to storytelling.
The world of magic, with its illusions and sleight of hand, has always been shrouded in mystery and intrigue. However, in the modern era, a new element has been added to the magician’s toolkit, AI. They are finding that the integration of AI into magic tricks is not only revolutionising their work, but also creating an enhanced and interactive experience for audiences.

AI’S IMPACT ACROSS INDUSTRIES

Another significant field, particularly from the point of view of the future of humanity, in which AI is promising to play a critical role, is that of scientific research, which involves a lot of precise and repetitive tasks that robots can easily accomplish, significantly increasing the speed to new discoveries.
The ability of AI, to gather data, from sensors and satellites, is assisting scientists in blending climate models. Sensors detect the levels of pollutants in the air, by optimising energy consumption and reducing waste. AI can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources by detecting and preventing illegal activities that harm the environment, AI can help protect endangered species and preserve biodiversity.

One of the important challenges, which the world is facing today, is that of sustainable management of natural resources, such as land, water and air. Phenomena, such as mindless mining of underground water, use of water in excess of requirement in activities like irrigation and industry, needless application of chemical fertilisers in agriculture and emission of greenhouse gases by various activities including industry, and transport are adversely impacting on the quality of natural resource, thus endangering the future of mankind.

Integrating AI into building management systems serves to reduce water consumption and improve the efficiency of water usage. By analysing data on water usage patterns and identifying areas of inefficiency, AI algorithms optimise water usage and detect leaks in real-time. They collect water usage data in homes and buildings and help in designing water- and energy-saving programs.

AI is also very useful in creating sophisticated models of land use and to predicting the impacts of land use decisions. These models are based on large datasets that are analysed using advanced algorithms, which help to identify patterns in the data to identify areas that are suitable for different types of land use.

AI tools, when suitably prepared, can read real-time satellite images, detect early deforestation predictors (such as expanding roads), and alert local authorities to threats. They can create predictive models that simulate the growth, and behaviour, of forests under different environmental conditions. These models can help researchers understand how forests may respond to future climate change, land-use changes, and other human activities. Drones and AI are increasingly being used in forest ecology to gather and analyse data, monitor, and protect wildlife, and track changes in the forest over time. Equipped with cameras and sensors, they capture high-resolution images and collect data on forest structure, vegetation, and wildlife, which can then be processed by AI algorithms to extract insights and trends.

AI can also be used to classify and identify different species in the forest, helping ecologists to understand the diversity and distribution of wildlife better. In addition, drones can be used for the monitoring and protection of wildlife by providing real-time information on their movements and behaviour, which can be used to prevent poaching and habitat destruction. They can also be used to detect and monitor forest fires and other threats, helping to protect the forest and its inhabitants.

REDEFINING POSSIBILITIES

Hologram technology is another cutting-edge and exciting, digital visual solution that allows users to project three-dimensional images into real-world environments. The technology uses light and projection systems to create an illusion of a solid object, which can be viewed from multiple angles and appears to have depth. ‘Puzzle Generator’ is yet another powerful AI-based tool that uses AI to create captivating puzzles. It creates designs using AI and transforms them into puzzles for users to solve. The printing industry is another area where AI is proving extremely useful.

Personalization, which is becoming increasingly important in that industry, has profound implications in marketing, allowing businesses to create highly targeted and engaging materials.
In matters relating to internal and external security, AI can be used to create Cyber Weapons, impersonate targets or carry out unfortunately “superhuman hacking” of drones, or weapons systems, with devastating effect, has the potential to make hacking more sophisticated and help spread misinformation and propaganda.

Interestingly enough, AI is finding use helping gambling operators identify unhealthy patterns before they become a problem, by detecting addiction in players, and developing a “safety net” for players most at risk. It can also automate many aspects of a casino’s operations to increase efficiency and reduce costs. For example, AI can help improve the odds of winning at a particular game by improving the algorithms used to calculate the outcome. Another interesting application of AI is in horse racing where, with predictive analytics, it can help trainers, and owners, predict a horse’s performance accurately. For instance, by analysing a horse’s speed, it can predict how fast the horse is likely to run, in a given race.
AI models can analyse past market information and volatility, that could affect returns and adjust portfolios, in real-time, to align with changing market conditions. They also have the potential to improve overall portfolio performance, by suggesting diversification strategies to mitigate potential risk.
Analysis of historical trends, generation of investment ideas, formation of portfolios, and automatic trading in stocks, can also improve, in quality and speed, on account of the ability of AI to quickly process huge amounts of data and help make informed trading decisions.

Determining the viability of litigation or quantifying the value of a lawsuit requires extensive analysis of precedent-setting cases. A tool, known as ‘The Lawyer’ AI, can, for example, quickly review those precedents and help lawyers draft more accurate and appropriate documents based on that data.
AI has, thus, evolved, from its conceptual origins, to become an integral part of modern society. The journey, from rule-based systems to advanced machine learning techniques, highlights the dynamic nature of its development, with ongoing efforts to address challenges and unlock new possibilities for the future.

CHALLENGES AND ETHICAL CONCERNS

The unfolding scenario suggests that, in the near future, AI can involve widespread integration across industries. As AI continues to evolve, it holds the potential to reshape industries and society, presenting both opportunities and challenges that require thoughtful consideration. Continued advancements in natural language processing, reinforcement learning, and the fusion of AI with other emerging technologies such as quantum computing are also providing.

It needs to be noted, however, that there are challenges, and ethical concerns, around the use of AI in several fields, including data privacy, bias, and the potential for job displacement. AI embodies this duality perhaps more than any other emerging technology today. One of the most profound impacts of AI is on the workforce. Automation is replacing human workers at an unprecedented rate, with taking over routine and low-skilled jobs. While improving efficiency and reducing costs, it is raising concerns about the displacement of jobs. It needs to be realised that, in the ultimate analysis AI is not a job killer, but a job transformer.

By automating repetitive and low-value tasks, it can free human workers to focus on higher-level activities that require creativity, critical thinking, and empathy. While it can bring improvements to many sectors, it also has the potential to obstruct the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms – in particular the rights to privacy, freedom of thought and expression, and non-discrimination. Individuals, for example, could be targeted by AI-powered surveillance systems without their knowledge or consent.

Thus, any exploration of the use of AI-enabled technologies must always go hand-in-hand with prevention of potential infringement upon human rights. Risks of misinformation being used to harm organisations in the business world are just as great as in the political arena. AI is the kind of malevolent force embodied in the HAL 9000 computer in the 1968 sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The AI community is actively working on frameworks and guidelines to ensure responsible AI development and deployment. All its awesome potential, for revolutionising all aspects of modern life, notwithstanding, it must be noted that there are attendant risks and challenges.

As the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, stated in his 2018 Strategy on New Technologies, “with these technologies hold great promise, they are not risk-free, and some inspire anxiety and even fear. They can result in malicious and unintended consequences”.

ETHICS IN THE AI LANDSCAPE

India is leading the way in the field of AI, with a score of 3.09, ranking first in terms of AI skill penetration. Additionally, it has recently secured the first and fifth ranks in AI talent concentration and AI scientific publications, respectively, on a global scale.

With such a strong position, it’s no surprise that the demand for AI professionals is surging in the country. Despite its formidable position in the IT sector, India’s footprint on the global AI landscape is dishearteningly meagre. As the US, China and Israel gallop ahead, India’s inertia is alarming.
However, despite the impressive strides made in AI, there is a significant gap between the current demand, and supply, of AI professionals, estimated to be about 51%. As a result, the estimated demand, for AI professionals in India by 2024, is expected to exceed 1 million.

India is beginning to respond to the need to ensure that ethical and socio-economic considerations inform the application of AI in the future. This was rightly highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, while addressing the fourth Global Partnership on AI Summit, in New Delhi on Tuesday, urged “extreme caution”, and spoke about the challenges posed by the darker aspects of AI, adding that the suggestions and ideas emerging from the summit could help safeguard the world from potential risks and challenges posed by the darker aspects of AI, also noted that AI the potential to revolutionise India’s tech landscape: and that India will soon be launching an AI mission.

A comprehensive National Security Strategy on AI is essential to preserve an India’s leadership in the field, and ensuring that the country’s economy and security are not at risk. The strategy should focus on three key areas: investment in research and development, workforce training and education, and international cooperation. The development of such a strategy will require the cooperation of multiple government agencies and private sector partners.

It is generally accepted that the six pillars of responsible AI are fairness, reliability, privacy, transparency, sustainability and accountability. Many leading Multinational Corporations (MNC)s which are facing major strides in the AI arena, such as Nokia, are ensuring that these pillars are applied from the moment a new AI solution is conceived and enforced throughout the solution’s life.

RACE FOR TECHNOLOGICAL DOMINANCE

IBM, one of the pioneers in this field, similarly focuses on AI research and development, collaborating with different business units within IBM to implement AI solutions. Likewise, Google, though not a conventional AI organisation, is committed to pushing the boundaries of technology, including AI, in a selective manner, avoiding activities likely to be questionable and emphasising on beneficial and safe applications.

Similarly Baidu, a leading Chinese internet company, focuses on deep learning research, an essential component of modern AI. Microsoft is another MNC which has an entire division dedicated to AI research and development. Salesforce’s Einstein AI, is also focusing on creating AI-powered CRM solutions. Their work helps businesses make smarter decisions.

The next few years are likely to prove critical for the future of AI. While it is clear that it offers massive potential, achieving it in a way that will benefit humanity, avoiding the catastrophic outcomes, so that it is developed, and used, ethically and responsibly, however, requires hard work.

The United States and China remain at the forefront of AI investment, with the former leading overall since 2013 with nearly $250 billion invested in 4,643 companies cumulatively. As of October 2021, 44 countries were reported to have their own national AI strategic plans, showing their willingness to forge ahead in the global AI race. These include emerging economies like China and India, which are leading the way in building national AI plans within the developing world. Oxford Insights, a consultancy firm that advises organisations and governments on matters relating to digital transformation, has ranked the preparedness of 160 countries across the world when it comes to using AI in public services.
The US ranks first in their 2021 Government AI Readiness Index, followed by Singapore and the UK. Notably, the lowest-scoring regions in this index include much of the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as some central and south Asian countries. The developed world has an inevitable edge in making rapid progress in the AI revolution. With greater economic capacity, these wealthier countries are naturally best positioned to make large investments in the research and development needed for creating modern AI models.

SAFEGUARDING THE FUTURE OF AI

In contrast, developing countries often have more urgent priorities, such as education, health and sanitation. While the developed world is making rapid technological progress, the developing world seems to be underrepresented in the AI revolution. And beyond inequitable growth, the developing world is likely bearing the brunt of the environmental consequences that modern AI models, mostly deployed in the developed world, create.

But it is not all bad news. According to a 2020 study, AI can help achieve 79 per cent of the targets within the sustainable development goals; for example, AI could be used to measure and predict the presence of contamination in water supplies, thereby improving water quality monitoring processes. This in turn could increase access to clean water in developing countries.

The benefits of AI, in the global South, could be vast – from improving sanitation, to helping with education, to providing better medical care. These incremental changes could have significant flow – on effects. For example, improved sanitation and health services in developing countries could help avert outbreak of disease.

But if we want to achieve the true value of “good AI”, equitable participation in the development and use of the technology is essential. This means the developed world needs to provide greater financial and technological support to the developing world in the AI revolution. This support will need to be more than short term, as it will create significant and lasting benefits for all.

Governments and enterprises will need to spend the next few years focusing on building solid ethical and legal foundations for AI development. To that end, in May 2023, US President Joe Biden convened some of the biggest players in global AI development to ask for their commitment to managing AI appropriately. Some organisations, including Nokia and Microsoft, are already working in this area – and are strong advocates for appropriate AI safeguards and regulations. The Global Partnership on AI (GPAI) – forum where governments and experts can come together and develop AI.

The scope, for the application of robotics and AI, is expanding so rapidly that there appears to be no limit to the extent to which it can grow in the future. Studies suggest that it has already reached a stage where it can outperform human beings, although the best human brains can still give it a run for its money.

Not having done too badly in life, I have generally derived satisfaction from the fact that I possess intelligence in a measure that is slightly above average, to put it modestly. But it was my brother who, years ago, summed up my intellectual prowess neatly, when he said that all my knowledge could be written, in block letters, on the back of a postage stamp! My father, earlier, had even gone farther, saying that my ignorance was enormous, almost equal to his knowledge!

Mohan Kanda

Dr Mohan Kanda is a retired member of the Indian Administrative Service. In his long and distinguished career, he served in various capacities at the State as well as at the Centre including Chief Secretary of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, and Member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Government of India. He has authored several books including ‘Ethics in Governance - Resolution of Dilemmas - with case studies’

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