Brian Feucht: Artificial intelligence raises revolutionary issues

The phrase “artificial intelligence” elicits one of three responses from most humans: excitement, fear or confusion. If you are already familiar with topic, you’re likely feeling all three at once.

You’ve probably heard the hot topics in technology ethics, such as job-stealing robots and the “trolley problem,” an ethical dilemma that applies to the moral decisionmaking skills of autonomous automobiles. However, there are additional ramifications that carry just as much weight in the future of technological advancement.

What many people don’t understand is that artificial intelligence, known as AI, is already ingrained in most aspects of your daily life. So, when we talk about the future of AI, and the associated consequences, we are actually living that reality now.

As an example, cars have incorporated AI functions for many years now.

Ever used cruise control? Have a blind spot monitor that alerts you when someone is in the bike lane next to you? These are examples of rudimentary AI.

They’re not the AI we like to see in movies and TV. They’re not the exciting AI. But they are processes from which we reap benefits almost every day.

AI is going to change the future of daily life, just as it has already adapted our ability to avoid traffic violations and accidents. Those changes stretch further than the simple ability to rest your foot on a long car ride or avoid having to crane your neck to see blind spots. In fact, the evolution of our political, cultural and economic systems is very dependent on what is, in its most basic form, a combination of patterns.

We, as humans, want very badly to recognize patterns in everything we encounter. Patterns allow us to understand what’s currently happening to the extent that we can successfully guess what comes next.

Guest Writer

Brian Feuchtserves as chief revenue officer at Predicta, which has an office in downtown McMinnville. The firm uses artificial intelligence to inform marketing decisions for corporate clients. Feucht has served as an executive in a variety of software and consumer electronics companies, and continues to serve as advisor to a number of privately held ventures. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his two children.

There are many patterns we have come to count on in our lives: changing seasons, traffic schedules, the marking of year, month, day and minute, and so on. While some are more reliable than others, these patterns shape our lives so that we not only follow, but plan for accordingly.

Patterns make life more predictable, but hardly definite. Unexpected disasters occur every day, whether big or small.

When it comes to AI, a program is only as strong as the sensors that deliver data and the humans who engineered it. That means autonomous objects are subject to the same pitfalls as most human operators, as well as some new mechanical ones.

Anyone who has read Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” or watched the 2005 film by the same name, can relate this issue to one faced by Charlie Bucket’s father.

Computer software is not subject to physical wear and tear, but the devices the software inhabits are. So even when a machine is programmed to, let’s say, put caps on toothpaste tubes, the employee who was previously in charge of that task will now have to assume responsibility for monitoring the machine for errors.
Moving from the factory level to the broader economy, autonomous cars have the capacity to change everything we currently understand about driving. But considering the widely popular “trolley problem,” how is the machine to decide who gets hurt in an accident?

The car must decide in a fraction of a second whether to continue forward and hit the pedestrian who appeared suddenly on the road ahead, or swerve and risk injuring its own passenger. This issue raises questions not only about the situation itself, but the wider ramifications, such as legal and fiscal responsibility.

If users of technology really want to reap the rewards of AI, they need to look past tomorrow and address the business of technology. Otherwise, the net gain will be only a gimmick.

Currently, you have to have auto insurance to drive. It protects the driver and anyone else on the road from incurring higher costs than they can manage in the event of an accident.

Users of autonomous vehicles are in a situation where they are not drivers anymore. At this point, the burden of responsibility shifts to the AI makers. Just think of AI as a taxi driver in your own car.

Let’s bring this to a local level.

Here in McMinnville, we have Oregon Mutual Insurance. What percent of its business stems from individual insurance policies?

How will insurance companies address the issue of AI? Will they be providing insurance to the AI company, and, if so, who will foot the bill?

I would love to lose the $150 a month bill for insuring my two cars, and, boy, do I ever dread the increase the day my kids start to drive. That brings me farther down the economic rabbit hole of vehicular ownership, raising the question: What’s the point of owning a car?

A car is frequently one of the most expensive purchases you’ll make in your life.

The average time spent in a car each year is about 290 hours, and I guarantee you I use that living in Mac. That leaves roughly 8,470 hours in a year where your car is just sitting on the pavement.

What if you leased it to people who couldn’t afford a car of their own? It could make you money.

Imagine designated waiting areas around a city filled with driverless cars at the ready, available for people to use while their owners were at work. What would users be willing to pay?

Would the Ubers and Lyfts of the world stand for this business, or is this their real business? How much power will we give the company over the individual once he becomes a small business owner? Who stands to make the most out of this deal, and who will we allow to profit?

On top of the corporate control issue, what will this mean in terms of traffic laws and enforcement?

Cars programmed to follow precise driving regulations will significantly diminish the number of citations and accidents. Law enforcement might be able to reallocate resources from traffic incidents to the other matters they have piling up on their plates.

How about city planning and land development? More cars in transit mean fewer in parking spaces.

The most congested downtown areas will have less demand for parking, with cars simply driving into the drop-off zones before zooming off to their next pickup. This eliminates pay-to-park income for cities, but it also frees up high-value properties for more desirable business development.

As we progress toward a more automated future, it’s important to remember the immediate satisfaction of a convenient car journey is not the end goal. We want technology that not only makes our daily lives easier, but also produces benefits for the long term.

The evolution of technology should be intelligent, not just for telling you the weather this weekend or helping you avoid congested streets, but for an evolving society overall.

This AI thing can be “what-iffed” to death. I urge you to think past tomorrow and make sure this revolution actually returns a long-term benefit to you and society.


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