AI – good for us, or a potential danger?

When Einstein, in 1939, wrote to President Roosevelt, warning him that uranium could be turned into a new and important source of energy, and that powerful bombs could be constructed, could he ever have imagined the power of AI as we now know it? Like the arms race, has a new (technological) race now begun – one that humanity may soon be powerless to stop? Recent media coverage warns us that advanced AI could represent a profound change, affecting us all, and therefore needs to be managed with collaborative, corporate care. Could AI get out of human control?  Yet, co-operation does not manage societies – competition does. Thus China and Russia will not be stopped, and therefore can the US and others? Experts have pressed the panic button. 

AI must be a main event in our lifetime, alongside that of climate change. How wonderful if the former could eventually control the latter? This technology is now starting to affect all aspects of teaching and learning. In schools, pen, pencil and handwriting are already starting to fade into insignificance. Books are going out of fashion. AI is being used for all sorts of educational purposes, from marking to writing reports. Whilst this frees up time for teachers, where is the human factor, especially for those learners who need more than average support to achieve? 

A recent TV programme (25.5.23) reported that AI is affecting all walks of society – with both positive and negative effects. Call centres are being operated by AI, placing many jobs at risk. In the NHS, such technology is being used to enhance human performance, thus freeing up staff to deal with other aspects of patient care. AI is also being used to offer older people companionship – yet, can a robot ever become a human companion? The programme also showed the dangers of AI generating fake news, stealing people’s identities and using these to place deceased people on videos. 

Could AI also become a tool for surveillance by untrustworthy nations, expanding the concept of spying way beyond the human imagination? A further major problem is how aligned is AI to our human values? In other words, does AI know the difference between good and bad, and if so, which way will it decide to go? Can a computer learn to think for itself – where will it decide to go? Can humans stop its independence? There is no doubt that  AI is an all powerful, possibly destructive force. 

Governments and experts need to work together to control it. 

Sylvia Edwards is author of ‘Time of the Virus’ written through the lockdowns of Covid, as a reflective and highly thought-provoking book about what is wrong with society and what needs to be changed, as well as ‘The SENCO Survival Guide,’ third edition, published 2022, focusing on improving outcomes for children and students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

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