The Promise and Pitfalls of AI

Listen 51:53
A human hand and robot hand reaching for a bright light surrounded by digital machinery

(World Image/Big Stock)

In a lot of ways, artificial intelligence acts as our personal butlers — it filters our email, manages the temperature in our homes, finds the best commute, shapes our social media, runs our search engines, even flies our planes. But as AI gets involved in more and more aspects of our lives, there are nagging fears. Will AI replace us? Make humans irrelevant? Make some kind of terrible mistake, or even take over the world?

On this episode, we hear from scientists and thinkers who argue that we should look at AI not as a threat or competition, but as an extension of our minds and abilities. They explain what AI is good at, and where humans have the upper hand. We look at AI in three different settings: medicine, work, and warfare, asking how it affects our present — and how it could shape our future.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • We meet an engineer who quit her dream job at Google because she was being asked to work on a project for the Department of Defense — and she says she didn’t want to be “part of a kill chain.” This excerpt from WHYY’s new podcast A.I. Nation, explores the ethical challenges surrounding the use of autonomous weapons.
  • “The big danger to humanity is not that AI is too smart. It’s that it’s too stupid,” says Pedro Domingos, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington. He explains what exactly AI is, and why we often use this term for things that are not artificial intelligence. Domingos’ book is “The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World.”
  • Will a machine read your resume? Or maybe even interview you? Alex Engler, the AI and Democracy fellow at the Brookings Institution, answers questions about how AI is currently being used in the hiring process, and whether it can do a better job than humans at eliminating bias.
  • Kate Darling, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, explains why we should think of AI less as rivals — and more as pets and other animals. Her book is called “The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots.”

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