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The Age of AI, and what that means for Nepalis

There has been a lot of talk in the ‘west’ about the Age of AI. In the not-too-distant-future, cars will drive themselves and brick and mortar stores will disappear as everyone starts shopping from home using a smart speaker named Alexa or Cortana or some other non-descript approximation of a human being. In all examples of this imminent futuristic age, the one thing in common is that humans are replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI), for better or for worse.

In the Age of AI, doctor visits won’t include an actual doctor, but instead, you will be diagnosed by a super computer living in the cloud – just call him Dr. Watson for short. In fact, any kind of visit imaginable will include a session with some sort of chat bot or artificial being, and not someone akin to ourselves, who  has flesh and blood and the propensity to make mistakes.

We see the beginnings of the Age of AI everywhere we look, in the way that America is now fighting wars with drones, to the way Americans are starting to shop for groceries – ordering tomatoes online via Amazon instead of walking down to their local shop.

Now for those of us living in the developing world (let’s include Nepal there), it seems that we are a long way off from any of that. Some might quip that we are still in the Stone Age, and far from the economic perils that the Age of AI brings to any society that embraces AI as a replacement for human intelligence.

This is what great minds like physicist Stephen Hawking and tech billionaire Elon Musk warn: “AI could spell the end of the human race,” and “AI is our biggest existential threat.”

Great thinkers, movers and shakers and academics like Prof Vardi (Rice University / Guggenheim Fellow) all agree: AI could drive global unemployment up to 50 per cent , wiping out middle-class jobs and exacerbating inequality all over the world.

But what will the effect be here in Nepal? I know you are all wondering…

How will any of this new-age automation affect us here, where you can’t even get online to read a web page, let alone order a home-automation system via Apple.com? Let’s face it, globalisation may have conquered the rest of the world, but for most of here in South Asia, we are still living in a post-50s world of doing things by hand, and still living hand to mouth during our day-to-day.

Yet perils still exist for the developing world, even outside the immediate dangers of a drone strike. Massive unemployment in the developed world may mean even more unemployment in the developing world. Take just one example of  call centres, which may go away as fast as you can say “Hey Siri” once that technology is perfected just a little bit more.

In addition to call centres going the way of the Dodo, what about Tourism in the world of AI? Will virtual reality trekking soon replace the real thing? I can’t say for sure, but if I were the owner of a trekking company, I’d be worried. After all, if human sex is predicted to go the way of the robot by 2050, I’d say that human walking has no chance of survival whatsoever in a world where no one is even making babies the traditional way.

And for those thinking that low-cost manufacturing might be an answer for Nepal, after all, AI machines have to be built by someone  right? Wrong.  AI machines of the future will be also be built by machines. So only countries who are building robots now, will own that market in the future.

Yet the one bright light in all of this is that we are so far behind the rest of the world, technology-wise, that we may survive a bit longer than others around the globe. In other words, the Age of AI is going to take a lot longer to change our lives here in KTM, than say in London or NYC.

For example, automated cars would be useless here, until all of our gullies can be GPS mapped; automated online shopping won’t happen here until everyone has a street address, and D. Watson won’t work in any of our hospitals until they are wired for high-speed internet first.

So there might be a delay in our demise, just by the sheer nature of our technological ‘backwardness’. But when has the backwardness of any civil society ever been an advantage? I am hard pressed to find an example; historically, societies that fail to adapt to the latest in technology tend to become just historical footnotes, and irrelevant just decades later.

I guess the best that we can hope for in the upcoming Age of AI is that the gap – the delay in time before we catch up with the rest of the world – will afford us a few more years of living as humans always have, without the aid of anything artificial when making our most basic of decisions.

Let me know if you agree (or disagree) in the comment box below…

 

Jigs Gaton is a quirky-kinda guy, hailing from America and happily living in Dhobighat with family, friends and a 40kg dog. Like many technologists of his age, sees nothing but doom and gloom in the upcoming Age of AI.


Published on June 20th, Tuesday, 2017 10:53 AM


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