Artificial Intelligence – our daily companion

When one first hears the terms artificial and intelligence in the same sentence, a plethora of Sci-Fi movies swims through our minds.

Most notably (at least for some of us) is Sarah Connor fighting not only for the fate of humanity but also for the life of her unborn son from the coming about of Skynet (responsible for the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) that became “self-aware”, later causing a nuclear holocaust) - 3 billion human lives were lost in the nuclear fire. But that wasn’t the worst part of it – what followed after the nuclear fire was years of war against “the machines” (This is Barry).

And the idea of AI becoming self-aware and possibly leading to our downfall has sent sweat dripping down the collective spines of all of those who watched the series of Terminator movies from 1984 to 2019.

Could that really happen? Can AI become self-aware? And if it does…. Could it lead to the destruction of humankind as we know it?

Sure, all relevant questions. At least for those with vivid imaginations. Because the truth is, we have been using some form of AI for years.

Ø  When searching on Google and predictive text fills in the blanks – that’s AI.
Ø  When scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, the feeds are specific to your own likes and preferences – that’s AI
Ø  When going through your filtered tabs in your email inbox – that’s AI too.

The world has been influenced by and affected by AI since the advent of the internet. In fact, it has been said – in this case by Future Learn - that “internet engineers have been using a basic form of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for an exceptionally long time, actually, since the late 1980’s”.

So, the sweat dripping down our spines for fear of AI becoming self-aware is probably unfounded. In fact, it’s most certainly unfounded.

Instead, AI has had a tremendous impact on our society, making things more convenient, making our lives easier and less complicated and in some cases, ensuring we get information at the click of a button – saving us time and guaranteeing that we remain on top of things as much as possible.

Skynet? “Shmynet” in our opinion.

But what is AI and how it has had an impact on our daily lives.

What is AI?

The “father of AI”, John McCarthy offers a definition of AI in his research paper What is Artificial Intelligence?

“It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable”.

This definition is echoed by Builtin that defines AI as follows –

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. While AI is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, advancements in
machine learning and deep learning, in particular, are creating a paradigm shift in virtually every sector of the tech industry”.

What this basically means is that AI is simulating human processes and intelligence by using machine learning.

And sure, that may sound scary. But the reality is, it’s extremely straightforward (and not as nefarious as The Terminator would have you believe).

How does AI work?

We understand the broad concept that is AI – a machine that is built to perform activities similar to that of human beings. That includes performing cognitive functions like interpreting and understanding speech, playing games, or learning patterns.

But the question is how do they actually do that?

TechTarget describes how AI works as follows –

“AI requires a foundation of specialized hardware and software for writing and training machine learning algorithms. No single programming language is synonymous with AI, but Python, R, Java, C++, and Julia have features popular with AI developers.

In general, AI systems work by ingesting large amounts of labelled training data, analysing the data for correlations and patterns, and using these patterns to make predictions about future states”.

AI essentially takes vast amounts of data and processes it in a way that it can decipher patterns which it can then model into its own language and decision-making protocols. AI is generally – and funnily enough – supervised by human beings.

This idea of self-awareness and human “intelligence” does come up quite a bit in literature. On this topic, there are two schools of thought courtesy of Builtin

1.     Strong AI - is a machine that can solve problems it has not been trained to work on before. The same way a human being would approach a new problem. This type of AI resembles Data (played by Brent Spiner) from Star Trek or Andrew Martin (played by Robin Williams) in Bicentennial Man. Strong AI represents a machine with a full set of cognitive abilities. But this type of AI doesn’t exist yet. At least, not in reality. And some strongly believe that the creation of a machine with human like intelligence should be limited, there are potential risks of creating a powerful AI without appropriate guardrails (like a human being with no moral compass, no ethics, no cognitive understanding between right and wrong).

2.     Weak AI – in strong contrast to so-called “strong AI”, weak AI operates within a narrow, limited context. It’s only a simulation of human intelligence that is applied in well-defined problems. Weak AI is primarily focused on performing a single task extremely well. While these machines resemble a type of “intelligence”, they operate under structured, formal constraints. Perfect examples of weak AI is Apples’ Siri and Amazons’ Alexa

What impact has AI had on our day-to-day lives?

There’s no denying that AI can be found almost everywhere. In fact, many of us may not even be aware we are using AI.

But think about it – when you wake up in the morning, many of us are woken up by our alarm clocks which are often on our mobile phones, we then either read the news headlines, scroll through Instagram or LinkedIn, or perhaps check up on any new emails that may have come in during the night. It’s almost as if those actions are automatic. Engrained in our daily routine and they have thus become integral to how we function in terms of our decision-making, planning and information-seeking.

The things is once we are awake and have started our day, we are instantly using AI functionality. We already mentioned social media and emails, but AI starts when we use face ID to unlock our mobile phones or when accessing our various mobile apps. We use AI when driving to a new destination using a navigation app (University of York).

AI touches almost every aspect of our daily lives. But it has also had an immense impact on –

Ø  Healthcare – “AI is bringing a paradigm shift, powered by increasing availability of healthcare data and rapid progress of analytics techniques. AI, in other words, is making machines act intelligently. AI enables greater access and democratisation of quality healthcare. For instance, AI allows for faster, cheaper, and better medical services. In addition to cheaper options (such as AI doctors, nurses, therapist, etc.) in areas that are more rural and promotes apps for access to rural and low-income communities and avoiding higher travel costs with specialists. Some of these remote healthcare apps include snake-bite diagnostics, skin cancer detection, malaria, malnutrition diagnosis, and cardiovascular abnormalities” (Omnia Health).

Ø Crime and fraud prevention – “AI can be used in crime prevention by analysing data that may indicate criminal activity. One example of an existing solution is the PredPol system, which uses machine learning algorithms to analyse historical crime data and identify patterns in the time and location of crimes. Based on these patterns, the system generates “predictive hotspots” that indicate where crimes are most likely to occur in the future. A well-known example of fraud prevention in blockchain transactions is Chainalysis. The company applies machine learning algorithms to monitor and analyse the flow of cryptocurrency transactions across various blockchain networks. By analysing the patterns of these transactions, experts can identify suspicious activities and track the flow of funds across different addresses and accounts” (Cointelegraph).

Ø Legal profession – the legal profession once slow to change is adjusting to the use of AI extremely well. So much so that legal professionals around the globe are using AI to review documents, to analyse contracts and to conduct legal research. Tasks often assigned to the more junior lawyer in the law firm, but time-consuming tasks that can be better performed by AI.  

“When performing the review of documents for litigation, lawyers search for specific and important keywords, dates, emails, and other documents. AI is able to learn what is relevant and what is not, from previous searches conducted by legal professionals. AI-based software can help with organizing files, documents, emails, calendar, and tasks. Structuring of large amounts of information makes the administration of legal documents more efficient. When talking about analysing contracts, adopting machine learning to review contracts, makes the process not only more accurate but more efficient too. AI-based software can spot and identify issues that might have been missed by human lawyers. It can review contracts faster and, in some cases, more accurately than humans. With legal research AI-based software can do it almost instantly, but only if the AI system has enough data and powerful algorithm. Some attorneys are not even aware they’re using AI in their research since it’s been integrated into many research services. With intelligent legal research software, attorneys can test out variations in fact patterns or legal analyses to identify the most advantageous strategy.” (Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its Impact on the Legal Profession).

It’s a brave new world we find ourselves in - AI really is everywhere.

It helps in our everyday lives – whether in a personal manner or professional one. As a society we have come to rely on AI in ways that we probably didn’t foresee before. Often it has been the helping hand we so desperately needed but didn’t know it until we used it – you know the saying “don’t mock it ‘til you’ve tried it”.

But with everything in life, there are risks, there are rules and there should be regulations. Just to ensure everything remains on the up and up. When it comes to AI (and of course, data capturing resulting from machine learning), the risk lies in the sharing of personal information. Something that is fiercely protected in -

Ø  The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) - a Regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy in the EU and the European Economic Area, and |Ø  
Ø  South Africa’s own Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPIA) - sets out the minimum standards regarding accessing and 'processing' of any personal information belonging to another.

We will be looking into some of these regulations in our next article. Look out for it!

In the meantime, if you have any questions on the information we have set out above or have a personal issue which you want to discuss with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at NVDB Attorneys.

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