As artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and applications have expanded, the AI field is fueling fodder for some interesting science-fiction scenarios. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla—which relies on AI for self-driving and other key functions—has warned the world about “scary outcomes” harnessed by the power of AI-fueled robots akin to those in “Terminator” film series.
Similar explorations in pop culture frequently hint at potential harms of AI—from taking our jobs to taking over the world. About two-thirds of American workers think robots will steal their jobs within 50 years.
As CTO of an organization that uses AI technologies, I tend to dismiss AI doomsday theories, but there are several reasons for doing so. By itself, AI is not harmful, and those who are stewards of it have a big responsibility: to apply AI well, involving human decision makers so the capabilities of both entities can be leveraged for success.
AI has become a part of our everyday lives and is not going away. It is having a substantial, positive impact on many sectors and lives, working in cooperation with human beings to serve societal needs with efficiency and speed.
I urge business leaders to ask how we can use AI to build something beneficial and effective. How can we maximize the good, marrying the best of AI and human capabilities, for optimal design and, therefore, outcomes? We start by looking at the ways the technology—and a subset, machine learning (ML)—is helping to improve society and guide informed decision making.
Applications And Lessons Learned
It is important to remember that while machine learning has become essential to many industries’ processes, it cannot always replace humans. This is particularly evident in avionics, an industry that has developed a reliance on AI over the last 40 years.
The technology applications in aviation are not necessarily intended for use without human involvement. Would you ever be a passenger on a plane that did not have a pilot? Probably not; the pilot was always intended to be engaged with the operation of flying.
As part of my graduate research assistantship, I tested cockpit layouts with one of the industry’s greatest design leaders, Dr. Jefferson Koonce. In our work, we saw how thousands of sensors provide information about the plane in flight, such as weather details, headwinds and opportunities to save fuel. More importantly, we focused on the interaction between data and humans. Are we managing the cognitive load of the pilot, or are we overwhelming the pilot with information and data?
We expect physicians in today’s healthcare to exercise judgment and intuition when confronted with a patient problem. Simply asking the patient how they’re feeling and listening to their answers is a human interaction that yields surprising results. Similarly, in aviation, according to U.S. Air Force pilot and Thunderbird pilot Nicole Malachowski, when you are in turbulence, or refueling in a thunderstorm, you have to loosen your grip on the joystick. That’s human intuition at work.
The role of AI was to bring valuable data and real-time information to the pilot so they could use their skills to make the best decisions possible, particularly in critical and potentially life-saving situations. Since the initial implementation of these sensors—and newer technologies like wind shear and microburst detection—air travel has never been safer. The availability of data via AI enables pilots to be better prepared and significantly reduces weather-related issues.
In addition to air safety, AI makes our daily life easier in several simple and complex ways.
Many of you surely remember consulting physical map books or printing out directions for a trip. Map apps, using AI, have streamlined the way we plan for and think about car travel.
There are numerous ways we use AI for our convenience in the banking and financial sector. Some people no longer use brick-and-mortar banks at all, conducting all their business online or via an app. You can thank AI for that major development, given its ability to automatically detect fraud, complete mobile check deposits, check account balances, enable bill pay, and much more.
Without the help of AI, search engines like Google would not be able to deliver relevant and timely information to drive countless daily decisions. AI figures out what search results you will see and what related topics may be relevant to help you get the “right” answers.
When we combine AI with human intuition in a way that makes sense, we can significantly improve the way we practice medical care. Presentation of relevant data empowers physicians and other healthcare decision makers when they are faced with a myriad of dynamic questions: Does a patient get admitted or sent down the street to the sister facility? How well do particular types of patients respond to a specific treatment? With the right data, humans can solve complex challenges.
AI can quickly access and examine thousands of medical records, pulling relevant information like preexisting conditions, drug interactions or Covid status, for example, to guide important diagnoses and treatment plans that will keep patients safe.
Regardless of industry, this marriage is poised to optimize modern AI applications for good. We will continue to face the design application challenge of providing that critical data while ensuring that human experts are making the decisions that matter most. Instead of fearing for the worst AI future, let’s continue to evolve this technology in a smart, safe way and helps make a difference.