We all know the acronym and we've all seen the movies; some crazy scientist invents a machine that is aware of itself and then something happens and the scientist loses control of the machine. Many people fear the rise of artificially intelligent machines, proclaiming that they will make humans obsolete and the we will rely so heavily on their systems that we will no longer be able to accomplish tasks without their aide, we will be slaves.
I usually smile when people seem scared about these things (especially the slavery), not because there is no danger but because Hollywood has only shown us the bad side of AI (in the movie iRobot, Will Smith battles AI robots that feel that in order to protect humanity they must destroy it). In reality the positive side of AI far outweighs any potential downsides (unless they destroy the planet). The New York Times had a good article today about the use of AI in medicine and other fields where quicker diagnoses will lead to better care and a more simplified transaction and even personal computing.
When I think about AI I always get caught up in the exciting idea that in the future, my computer and other devices will learn about me and the way I do things and align itself to aide me as best it can. For instance, if someone emails me and wants to schedule a meeting, my computer should first, check to see if I have appointments, then look into the past to figure out what time I usually schedule meetins and finally, perhaps it even analyzes my relationship with the person based on mutual correspondance. After the analysis is performed, my machine makes the event in my calendar and responds to the email. I am alerted of the event and have the ability to accept or reject what the computer has done. Its little things like this, combined with large systems like customer service phone lines that will make AI an integral part of our society in the future.
Yet there is always a downside with new technology and AI can't escape that fact. The main problem is that when we use computers to answer phones, and make diagnoses and possibly perform other functions that usually require humans, we eliminate jobs. As I see it, this isn't entirely bad, its just different. What AI will probably do to society is redefine what a low level job is, and push people into a higher levels of comprehension and application. No longer will workers sit and answer phones all day, instead they will be analyzing the computer data and working on efficiency of the system. So yes there is a possiblity that we are putting ourselves in a bad situation but I think that with the correct forsight we can use AI to our absolute advantage and use it as a booster, not the structure of our society itself.
As we progress more and more technologically we must be aware of the apparent 'singularities' that will be encountered. We must use these ideas in conjunction with the technology so we are always expanding from a singularity, rather than being consumed by it. AI might mark the first big technological singularity for our society, but that doesn't mean its the end, in fact, its just the beginning...