08 March 2021

In 1966, Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek made its television debut on NBC. Audiences young and old were captivated by the show, particularly by its imagination of space, the future, and the incredible technology humanity could develop. Star Trek would inspire a generation of people determined to create the gadgets of the future. Just three years after the premiere of Star Trek, humanity would launch Apollo 11, the spaceship that would carry Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface, making him the first person ever to walk on the moon. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other children of the space age would become titans of the modern technological era, successfully developing the same kinds of devices first seen in the iconic television show.

Sixty-three years later, it appears that humanity is inching closer to the future that was once only science fiction generations prior. In particular, technology powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming more integrated into our everyday lives. AI-powered virtual helpers in our smart devices have learned to understand our behavior to predict what we need from them. For example, Alexa, a digital assistant developed by Amazon, is trained to recognize voices, commands and even recognize when different people are talking to it. Through machine learning, Alexa learns your patterns, allowing it to predict when you need to order groceries, set the alarm to wake up, or even remind you to take your medication. And as soon as 2025, developers intend to make Alexa smart enough to predict when your relationships with your intimate partners are about to end.

AI analysts, researchers, and developers are also now working to integrate AI into E-Learning technology. AI-powered E-Learning can learn to apply logic to tasks through the data they collect from users. This data can help developers create software that makes learning in the classroom at a job more accessible and more streamlined. Training sessions for new skills that would previously take months to learn in a classroom can now be taught on a computer, tablet, or other smart device powered by technology designed to enrich the learning experience.

Of course, with any advance in technology, there exists a drawback. Many researchers who study AI have warned of the dangers that super-intelligent technology can pose to humanity. Elon Musk claims that “AI is far more dangerous than nukes.” AI is trained to accomplish its tasks logically, so it is neither benevolent nor malicious. However, suppose the AI’s goals do not align with humanity’s goals. In that case, it could pose a considerable threat to our safety. Smart cars that are programmed to optimize your travel from point A to point B may end up leaving havoc in their wake as they bulldoze through buildings and people to get you there the fastest way possible. Data centers storing vast amounts of personal information about us (everything from our patterns and behavior on the internet to digital images of our faces) also raise huge ethical concerns about privacy. In more recent years, researchers have warned about AI, particularly the algorithms used on social media sites, manipulating public perception by flooding people’s pages with false news articles. AI researchers and technology ethicists have urged that as our technology becomes smarter, it is important that we prioritize humanity’s safety from the dangers it may eventually pose.