Human minds are thought to be one of the most complicated structures in the entire universe, as we are able to think independently and make cognitive decisions in different contexts. But earlier in the year, Google’s AlphaGo successfully defeated a professional Go player. While Go is a Chinese chess game that requires extensive brainpower for its complex and convoluted gameplay, AlphaGo’s winning has marked an unprecedented attainment in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
But what exactly is AI? It refers to the capacity of computers being able to do things normally done by human beings, especially activities associated with thinking, decision-making and acting intelligently. Stanford researcher John McCarthy coined this term in 1956 during The Dartmouth Conference, officially outlining the landscape of AI. Googling the term “AI” would probably give you more than a million results. What really are the benefits of AI?
Chief among the potential perks would be reduced manual labour. Nao, a 58cm tall robot, has been “hired” by a Japanese bank to provide basic services to customers. Like any receptionists, it is able to answer basic questions from customers and provide pre-recorded responses in a number of languages. If we are able to use computers and robots to fulfill some trivial job obligations, we can reduce the amount of resources we spent on hiring and management (as robots don’t slack, we assume). It might seem horrible at this first glance to many, as it literally means job cuts! But if we focus on the long term, as people are “freed up”, they can focus on more advanced training and continuous education to get skills that robots can’t just master yet. Human capital accumulation is always an asset to society as a whole.
More personalized financial services would be another benefit. Robo-advisors and real-time processing are two major accomplishments in the context of financial services industry. Gone are the days when one had to queue up in the bank to deposit a single cheque or to make a time deposit. With the development of Robo-advisors, you are able to get investment advice without even seeing a real person. Real-time transactions enable you to transmit money overseas with a very low transaction fee, as there’s no need for a financial intermediary. Many believe that tellers and even retail banks will start to disappear in the next few decades, as computers are able to take up their jobs. Transaction time would be reduced and we can expect a more efficient business environment in the coming years.
A worth discussing phenomenon would be the ignorance of the importance of Artificial Intelligence, though. The mobile game Pokemon Go has swept across the globe in the last few weeks, but very few know the technicalities involved, not to mention technical terms like “Augmented Reality”, which was the gist of the whole game. Many believe that “computer languages” are a second language that everyone should learn; yet very few really know it. Only recent years had there been a growing need for talents in this field. For example, in the State of California, only 1/4 of schools teach basic computer science or coding, whereas 71% of STEM graduate jobs in California are in computing, with only 8% of all STEM graduates has a CS degree. A lack of access in programming education adversely affects our economy and creates major disproportions in education, particularly in STEM fields.
As you are enjoying the benefits brought by Artificial Intelligence, might as well go explore what it really is and creative positive externality by encouraging your younger generations to learn more about it!