Artificial intelligence could erode privacy, make face-to-face contact a thing of the past, and stop people thinking for themselves, according to members of the public concerned about the rise of computers.
The Royal Society is holding a landmark inquiry into “machine learning,” a form of AI in which algorithms teach themselves how to perform tasks that are often too complicated or boring for humans.
It is the same technology that underpins driverless cars, recommendations made by Netflix and Amazon, banking software to detect unusual transactions, voice recognition on cellphones, and email spam filters.
According to the Times, initial findings suggest that while fewer than one in 10 people have heard of machine learning, most were familiar with everyday applications that used it – but were unaware of how it was changing their lives.
Of the 1,000 people polled by Ipsos Mori, most were positive about the way the technology was improving the accuracy with which hospitals could diagnose diseases such as breast cancer.
There were also grave reservations about the technology, including how the computers were increasingly crunching through millions of pieces of personal data without the knowledge of the people who supplied the information.
Many were concerned with AI stripping people of their privacy. One example was a girl, 15, who was bombarded with maternity products by a retailer based on her internet searches, before she had told her parents she was pregnant.
Participants were also bothered by the way programs often exaggerate biases, for example, by raising insurance premiums for poor people, women, ethnic minorities, and smokers.
Scientist such as famed physicist Stephen Hawking have warned that sentient computers, able to think and learn for themselves, could enslave humans or wipe us out if not developed carefully.
He said AI would decimate middle class jobs and worsen inequality – risks creating significant political upheaval.
Various reports have warned jobs are at risk of automation, with the manufacturing, retail, science, and technical sectors to be hit the hardest.
Serious ethical concerns about artificial intelligence have also been raised. A professor of robotics at Sheffield University, Noel Sharkey, warned that teens may soon have their first sexual encounters with specifically-designed robotic dolls, saying the trend could ruin human relationships and have terrible consequences for humanity.
An entrepreneur who hopes to open London’s first “fellatio cafe” said he hopes his staff will be made up entirely of sex robots.
Last year, Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee warned that the government is not prepared for the arrival of robots, which will “fundamentally” change lives.
AI, such as driverless cars and supercomputers that can help doctors with medical diagnoses, will soon be the norm, the committee said.