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Existential threat

Reflecting on the current global trends – from our personal conduct to corporate behaviors – I feel that there are several emerging issues that influence our growth and evolution.
There is no doubt that we are going through a defining moment in our evolution. We have a range of new products and processes that enhance the physical quality of our life and convenience. But have we become genuinely happy with our way of life? Have we become more intelligent than our ancestors? I think we are not.
Fulfilment of personal objectives continues to challenge our everyday life. We are on a constant struggle that tests our resilience and ingenuity. In spite of material progress, contentment and happiness remain elusive.
Hardly a day passes by without reading about abominable killings and terror strikes. Man is turning beast in larger numbers. Happiness is at a premium.
More than ever it is imperative today that we measure economic and industrial progress in terms of how it impacts our life. In this context the happiness quotient is as important a measure as GDP.
There is no doubt that the level of happiness is an accurate measurement of human welfare. This is reflected in higher life expectancy, better physical and mental health, lower corruption, less inequality and greater freedom.
We know that financial status alone will not ensure a better quality of life. Most rich countries have ‘poor people’. India’s neighbour Bhutan, although it’s not very wealthy, is rated as one of the top nations where people are a happy lot. They lead a higher quality of life.
Taking note of the importance of happiness quotient, the United Nations has declared March 20 as World Happiness Day. It defines happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.


While happiness quotient does not have anything to do with the level of wealth, it is interesting to look at the growth of intelligent quotient as we rapidly progress on the economic front.
Recent research shows that because of increasing automation, there is lesser reason to think about complicated tasks as machines handle such issues. This is leading to a decline in the human ability to surmount challenges.
Because of the increasing use of automated machines that are driven by artificial intelligence (AI), there is not much stress in using the brain. As technology gets smarter, people are becoming dumber. It was this concern that prompted teachers to discourage use of calculators by children.
It is now found that although people’s IQ has increased tremendously since 1930, a downward trend with as much as eight-point drop is observed. As we store frequently-used phone numbers on smartphones, there is no reason to remember them. The result is our inability to recall numbers that we often use. Memory is getting wilted.
Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla and his non-profit startup OpenAI, believes that AI could be a threat to humanity. He described it as “summoning the demon.” The startup is to keep a watch on what is going on in AI field.
Already many believe that algorithms – the instruction that computer follows to solve problems –will be taking over many tasks that only humans were able to perform. While automation displaced blue-collar workers in the 20th century, AI will be replacing knowledge workers of this century.

AI threat

A recent report said AI has begun to replace workers in the IT industry. By 2021, it is forecast that the IT industry would witness a net decrease of 9 per cent in headcount.
Even at the managerial level cognitive technologies and machine learning are reducing the need for human intervention in decision-making.
These technologies, which are constantly getting expanded in scope and range, have the capacity to crunch enormous amounts of data to enable it to understand and act on their own. They eliminate guess work and avert mistakes.
It is this emerging scenario that is worrying a lot of corporate leaders like Musk. They are concerned about the potential dangers of AI that may pose threat to humankind. They would rather want to take advantage of these technologies to enhance human intelligence and innovation for the good of humanity.
There is lurking danger in surrendering our brain before the machine. In the light of recent research on declining IQs, we need to work out an actionable AI strategy.
Have we reached our intellectual peak? Will a better system of education in the changing AI environment reverse the drop in our IQs?
These issues need to be explored. We need to study how our intellectual ability and emotional intelligence is shaped by our surroundings.
It is known that people tend to get stupid and irrational in a crowd. Group-think often undermines personal judgement. It is demonstrated by groups promoting terrorism.
In the age of the Internet, the ‘crowd’ has become synonymous with social media. While it helped open the floodgates of information, it also tended to add bias, prejudice and distortion in our personal judgement.
Too much dependence on the machine culture is putting a drag on our intellectual development. It is constant challenge that makes our brain alert. Look at how our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived and evolved. Like them, we need to remain smart to survive and progress.
We should leverage and dominate AI, but not surrender meekly before automation. In the light of AI’s rapid growth, it is important to put in place tough regulations.
The first intentional use of a lethally armed AI-driven robot by the police was in the recent Dallas shooting. Imagine if it had gone out of human control!
Therefore, we must constantly tighten the human grip over AI. Otherwise, it could pose existential threats to humankind.

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