Hawking’s Warning, the Future of AI in Development
By admin March 15, 2018

Photo Source: New York Times.


Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018 at the age of 76. He was a physicist and best-selling author who did not allow his physical limitations to hinder his quest to answer some of the universe’s most pressing questions. In addition to having a brilliant mind, Hawking’s computer-generated voice was known to millions of people around the world, a robotic twang that somehow enhanced the impact of the cosmological secrets he revealed.


Hawking lost his ability to speak after complications from a motor neuron diseased he was diagnosed with at the age of 21. The technology behind his means of communication was upgraded throughout the years, offering him the chance to sound less like a machine, but he insisted on sticking to the original voice because it had effectively become his own.


Despite benefitting immensely from advancements and developments in the field of artificial intelligence (A.I.), Hawking was skeptical of A.I. At the launch of the Center for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University in 2014, he stated that he believed that developing better technology was imperative for humans’ survival, but he was concerned about the pursuit of A.I. as a means of destruction. A.I is the theory and development of computer systems performing tasks that normally require human intelligence. This can include tasks such as image recognition, translation, and even decision-making.


Hawking warned that “alongside the benefits, A.I. will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many…In the future, A.I. could develop a will of its own—a will that is in conflict with ours,” he continued. “The rise of powerful A.I. will be either the best, or the worst, thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.”


Although the jury was still out on the profound advancements of A.I. in the following years after Hawking’s warning, he remained an optimist about the potential positive future for A.I. and its further development. Hawking stated in 2014 that A.I. could “work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance.”


Since Hawking’s comments in 2014, development practitioners have seen a growing range of technologies deployed to assist humanitarian efforts, whether it’s peacekeeping drones, crowdsourcing, or image analytics. With the rise in A.I. however, it’s perhaps no surprise that artificial intelligence can be utilized. In a recent paper, Improving official statistics in emerging markets using machine learning and mobile phone data, academics describe how uses in A.I. can predict the gender of pre-paid mobile phone users with a high degree of accuracy. Humanitarian rescue teams already use mobile phone data to help track those in need of assistance, but this new approach aims to go even further by helping to identify their gender, and therefore identify vulnerable groups such as women and children.


Similarly, the United Nations World Food Programme identifies A.I. as the future of humanitarian aid, with the potential to radically transform the way the international community assesses and responds to these and other kinds of crises. With the power to gather, analyze, and utilize data more effectively than ever before, we can begin to create and imagine the future of humanitarian response. The WFP is exploring the use of A.I. and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to assess the impact of a disaster in (almost) real time, inform our response, and deliver life-saving assistance. Other multilateral agencies, like the UN Refugee Agency, are also taking up A.I. tools to predict new migration movements and displacement crises.


The utilization of A.I. as a force for good in international development heeds Hawking’s warning and echoes his optimism for developing better tools to ensure the survival of humans. In the wake of his passing, Hawking’s life serves as an example of how the utilization of technology can enhance an individual’s contribution to the world. The continuing role of A.I. in development benefits the world’s most vulnerable and provides innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.


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Thanks for sharing !

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