Introspection: Is A.I. new coal or plastic?

Rohit Vadhwana Thursday 01st June 2023 04:44 EDT

When coal became mainstream for industrial use, people might have argued that it is a boon for our progress. Similarly, the invention of plastic was considered an important discovery for convenience in our lives. The way both these discoveries were received and welcomed, because of their usefulness, is similar to our response in today's time to artificial intelligence. The whole world is optimistic to adopt the use of AI in every field of life. Its benefits are highlighted disproportionately against the discussion on its adverse effects. We need to understand that no one can predict the exact outcome of any discovery or material unless it is put to good use for a reasonable time.

The fact is that having taken advantage of coal and plastic in industrialisation and wealth generation for decades, now we have turned our back on them. They are no more welcome in the same way as they were some time ago. Their utility has come under question in comparison to the harmfulness they have caused. Similarly, any new discovery like A.I. may have a similar future if not put to the test of informed discussion.

Normally, we examine the utility of new products or discoveries in a positive spirit, having optimism in mind. Its contribution to economic growth and human welfare is highlighted everywhere. Research papers and lectures go deep into the aspect of their utility and propose to adopt it as early as possible. It has happened in the past for various products and is happening now for the A.I. Similar attitude will remain in place in future also, whenever any new discovery with potential benefit is made. 

But do we also give enough attention to the harmful effect of these products? Did our forefathers pay enough attention to find out how coal or plastic may damage our environment? Were such views given due respect or were discarded as sceptical ideas? Were the dissenting opinions accepted by our society? Was there lobbying to silence these views? Did the corporates, hungry for profit, prevail over a rational discussion? Did the governments debate such products or discoveries in national legislatures giving them enough time?

Whatever might have happened to products/discoveries like coal and plastic in the past, now we are seeing the irreversible damage they have caused to our environment. The question here is whether they have made a disproportionately better impact than the damage caused by them. Whether we would have been able to live without them. Would humanity be better placed without using either coal or plastic? Will we be able to repair the damage and restore our ecosystem? All these aspects should be taken into account when we go into debates over the use of A.I. since it is the next big thing we are going to face in our lifetime. The wider possible uses of A.I. need to be understood and examined in this light. Let the A.I., or for that matter, any new product or discovery, be the coal or plastic again. Let us not accept anything which has utility but hazard as well since our planet has already suffered wounds and we should not make them more painful. 

(Expressed opinions are personal.)

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