Is AI friend or foe?

Let’s make the most of robots


Brendyn Burkitt, Staff Columnist

As humans, we have always thought of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution and the most intelligent and cognitively capable species on Earth. We drive ourselves to innovate, to advance, and to prove that we are special. Yet, that drive has produced a rival that may soon overtake us: artificial intelligence.

Invented in the early 19th century, computers were supposed to be extensions of us; they were supposed to help with advanced calculations that would be tedious or nearly impossible to do in our heads. Predictably, humanity didn’t stop there. We wanted to make computers better. We made them more efficient and capable of undertaking more complex tasks. After decades of work, they were everywhere. Computers became necessary for the world to function. Therefore, we kept innovating, working to make the impossible a reality. Artificial intelligence (AI) was born from that will.

AI, as a field, was officially established in 1956. AI, or machine learning, programs computers to adapt and work around issues seamlessly.

However, the field was not well received. Professionals and the public viewed it as science fiction and were skeptical, resulting in a pause in its development with sporadic periods of growth until the early 1990s. Finally, those sporadic sparks ignited a flame, or rather birthed a technological race that is still ongoing.

Initially, AI was sparsely used. There were limited applications for it. However, as AI became more complex, it became more accessible and applicable. Industries took notice. AI’s potential was obvious. Its ability to learn and adapt can outpace that of humans. It requires no pay, needs no breaks, and is smart enough to beat a grandmaster in chess; it is the perfect worker. Its application in data analytics, navigation, and even scientific research became imperative in the corporate world. To be competitive in most fields, AI was and continues to be necessary. AI took the world by storm—and now it has the opportunity to save it.

In today’s society, climate change is a universal threat. It is humanity’s most pressing issue, and humanity’s greatest modern innovation can combat it.

First and foremost, AI can save human lives by predicting inclement weather. Specifically, a select few startups have begun to use AI to more accurately forecast weather patterns. These predictions could involve something as small as changes in seasonal temperatures (which could ruin a harvest) or something as large as tropical storms. Predicting a natural disaster early could save millions of lives and critical infrastructure.

Another potential avenue for AI to aid in our climate crisis would involve its ability to map our world more precisely. This advanced mapping could deepen our understanding of the ice caps and give us greater insight into our self-imposed disaster. Furthermore, in critical regions, countries could track deforestation and crack down on problem areas using AI.

AI was created to solve problems—to work toward goals established by humanity. Innovation is born through a need to solve an issue, so who’s to say that AI can’t solve our issues? AI could develop carbon-neutral techniques to manufacture materials. The reinvention of the process of creating plastics and refining materials could become less impactful and more sustainable until we find a substitute. Additionally, AI can help large companies such as Amazon become carbon neutral.

AI has the power to shape the world, but ultimately, it’s a series of alternating letters, numbers, and symbols. Its decisions are based on prerequisites and data; it bears no human conscience and, therefore, cannot be ethical. We cannot teach it to account for emotion or pick and choose sides. It is engineered to complete a task. Humanity must take that into consideration. AI could drive humanity toward a utopia or a dystopia. In the past, its use has pushed us further toward extinction, aiding companies whose agenda helped only themselves. Today, humanity must use AI for the common good: to fight the crisis that we created.