Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 30 October 2020

AI and humans will co-exist, not compete, and AI will serve us, not the other way round

Attendees wearing protective masks walk through a temperature screening point as they arrive at the Samsung Electronics Co in South Korea. Bloomberg
Attendees wearing protective masks walk through a temperature screening point as they arrive at the Samsung Electronics Co in South Korea. Bloomberg

If 200 years ago we had a pandemic in China it would reach Europe only years later. Today, when the first cases happen in China, the second wave could be documented in Argentina or New York. The same goes for financial risks.

Many global risks indeed occur at such speeds, and if we want to assess them and search for solutions we must change our attitude by using viable and adaptable methods from physics, chemistry and biology.

The first three industrial revolutions were simple to explain. In the first, we discovered how to burn fuel to mechanise production; in the second, we used electricity to make our lives better; and in the third, we learned how to use computers.

Even as the world is passing through the fourth industrial revolution – where the digital, biological and physical worlds meet – in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is a relatively poor understanding of how new computing technologies will adapt to our natural intelligence.

The world today is changing so fast, I predict that we will not be able to distinguish today’s fourth revolution from the fifth or the sixth and so on

Earlier this year, at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, one of the world’s leading platforms for sustainable development, I shared my vision about the future impact of AI. As a former mathematician, physicist and computer scientist who worked on the early models for it, my argument is that there is no tangible reason to be afraid of AI. The beauty of human civilisation is that change, advancement and concern go hand in hand. We need to manage this reality and deliver solutions. I believe AI and humans will co-exist, not compete, and AI will serve us, not the other way round. Moreover, just as every previous revolution ended up creating far more jobs than it displaced, the same will happen with the fourth industrial revolution. And these new jobs will benefit both men and women.

The world today is changing so fast, I predict that we will not be able to distinguish today’s fourth revolution from the fifth or the sixth and so on.

Each previous transformation was met with concern about how it would affect our lives and whether it would take away jobs – from the Luddites who fought against mechanisation to the fear that computers would put us all out of work.

Armenia's President Armen Sarkissian, left, with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Ministry of Presidential Affairs
Armenia's President Armen Sarkissian, left, with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Ministry of Presidential Affairs

The traditional construct of global politics is undergoing an adaptation. All of this implies that we urgently need to upskill our existing workforce. The growing deficit of radically new ideas and the need for non-standard solutions induces the need for a broader range of skills and talents than in the past.In the classical political prism, what mattered were organised forms of connectivity: tribes, nations, religions, ideologies, parties and political institutions. In that context, the quantum political world moved in faster, unpredictable and seemingly random ways. Now, we are in a new era of quantum politics, quantum behaviour and quantum impact, which also makes it difficult to see the whole picture, because it is all new and global too.

While for us humans the entire picture may still appear blurry, AI is here to help us. With billions of dollars being invested, we are reaping the fruits of AI in medicine, space exploration and other sciences. This is the future and it will alter our understanding and change our lifestyle. The gradual integration of AI from science to the every day has already started to serve as a driving force of technological and civilisational progress. Schools, institutions, universities need to adapt themselves to these new realities, first to stay competitive, and then to be effectively involved in building our common future.

Isaac Newton is supposed to have been inspired to formulate his law of gravity when an apple fell on his head.
Isaac Newton is supposed to have been inspired to formulate his law of gravity when an apple fell on his head.

In my soon-to-be-released book Quantum Behaviour of Global Risks, I try to explain how global risks become quantum. We need to understand that the way human life is evolving in a digital world, it must factor in risks such as pandemics, terrorism and financial crises.

One upshot of this is that women will have more opportunities than they have had in the past. The unique experience of many women as nurturers and social carers has been at the heart of many cultures and has been vital for sustaining societies. If we can harness such experiences to build sustainable relations in business, and leverage them better through technology, then we will succeed in the future. The question is, are leaders wise enough to give women more opportunities to tackle the world's challenges?

The way we are working now will have to change in the future. If you look back to Isaac Newton’s time, there were perhaps 1,000 people in the world who were studying advanced mechanics. In Einstein’s day, he was one of maybe 10,000 scientists researching quantum physics.

International Women of Courage Award recipient Lucy Kocharyan of Armenia poses with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and First Lady Melania Trump in Washington. In Armenia, we have long acknowledged the importance of treating men and women equally, writes President Armen Sarkissian. AFP
International Women of Courage Award recipient Lucy Kocharyan of Armenia poses with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and First Lady Melania Trump in Washington. In Armenia, we have long acknowledged the importance of treating men and women equally, writes President Armen Sarkissian. AFP

How many people today do we have engaged in scientific research and development around the world, from scientists in laboratories at major universities to kids working in their basements? How many Newtons, how many Einsteins are potentially out there? And how many do we risk losing if we exclude 50 per cent of the population?

In Armenia, we have long acknowledged the importance of treating men and women equally. The First Armenian Republic of 1918-20 was one of the first states to give women the right to vote and to be elected to Parliament. The first female ambassador of modern times was also a woman – Dr Diana Abgar, who served as the Republic’s ambassador to Japan.

Of course, our country today faces many challenges, but we are embracing technology to drive us forward – Armenia is one of the start-ups of the 21st Century. Our Advanced Tomorrow initiative will help us to leverage science and technology and deliver a better future for all – men and women together.

Armen Sarkissian is the President of the Republic of Armenia

Updated: March 22, 2020 10:26 AM

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