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Artificial intelligence: Why we must learn from climate-change disasters to stop AI becoming the next big catastrophe

We didn't properly prepare for climate change, but we can learn from those mistakes.

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It's too late to prevent global warming; let's not go the same way with AI.

Image: iStock

There's been much discussion over what the rise of artificial intelligence could mean for society, including how AI impacts on jobs, how government might eventually be forced to step in to fix it, and what's going to happen when it sits inside our driverless cars or even in our homes.

Both the White House and the UK's House of Commons have recently released reports into the future of AI. These include recommendations on how to handle current uses of the technology, but government, business, and academia need to start thinking further ahead in order to answer questions about what the future of AI might lead to.

Professor Luciano Floridi, director of research and professor of philosophy and ethics of information at Oxford University's Internet Institute, likens it to a game of chess: you don't just take it one step at a time, but aim to plan many steps ahead.

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"It's like playing chess, if I move this, then you move that and I move this -- and so on," he said at a recent TechUK discussion about the future of AI. "Anyone who's played any game knows you need to think in terms of two, three steps down the road."

While some suggest that AI will create more jobs than it destroys, Floridi is unambiguous in what impact the technology is going to have. "Let me give you a clear example: jobs, they're going to go. If AI comes, jobs are going to go, simple as that," he said.

"What about if jobs go and nobody is going to pay taxes from those jobs? The jobs won't be there, so are robots going to pay taxes? I don't think so. Is the company going to pay taxes for all the people who have been replaced? I don't think so," he said.

The key to making AI a success, he argued, is planning out the future to such an extent that we're not just reacting to developments when it's already too late, like humanity has done so many times before.

"We've been here before with the environment, the car industry, manufacturing, and others. Normally we've been reacting to problems once they've blown up.

"Take the environment. We should have thought in terms of 'if then' and designed in advance, but instead we didn't and we reacted quite expensively to problems that we could've seen coming because they were there," he said.

While the idea of a jobless society might seem to be some way off, it's imperative that questions of how to deal with the evolution of work needs to be answered sooner rather than later.

And it isn't just blue collar jobs which might be under threat from automation; a recent report suggests that by 2021, the US and Europe could lose 1.8 million jobs in the banking sector due to the growth in automation.

If even the most basic forms of automated machines can take jobs, it is time to look three or four steps ahead in order to pre-empt potential problems instead of merely reacting to them.

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