According to prominent AI specialist Ben Herzel, who is of US-Brazilian origin, artificial intelligence could potentially replace as much as 80% of human jobs in the upcoming years. However, he believes that this change would ultimately be beneficial.
Herzel, who is renowned as a mathematician, cognitive scientist, and prominent robot inventor, is currently 56 years old. He is the founder and CEO of SingularityNET, a research organisation established by him with the objective of developing "artificial general intelligence" or AGI, which refers to artificial intelligence possessing cognitive abilities that are similar to those of humans.
During the Web Summit, the largest global technology conference, held last week in Rio de Janeiro, Ben Herzel made a statement to AFP in an interview. Herzel, who appeared in a leopard-print cowboy hat and had long hair, is known to be a provocateur. He mentioned that AGI is still a long way off and criticized recent efforts to restrict research in artificial intelligence.
Can AI become as smart as humans?
Q: How far are we from artificial intelligence with human cognitive abilities?
The US-Brazilian researcher and AI expert Ben Herzel, believes that significant progress is still required in the field of AI beyond traditional learning and programming methods. However, Herzel is optimistic about the future and believes that we could reach this goal in a matter of years rather than decades.
“If we want machines to really be as intelligent as humans and be as flexible in dealing with the unknown, then they need to be able to take significant steps beyond learning and programming. And we are not there yet. But I think there’s reason to believe we’ll get there in years, not decades,” he said.
AI and its potential risks
The AI guru said, while these AI systems are fascinating, they are not capable of achieving human-level general intelligence because they lack the ability to perform complex multi-step reasoning required for scientific work.
“I don’t think we should stop it because it’s like a dangerous superhuman artificial intelligence… These are very interesting artificial intelligence systems, but they’re not capable of becoming like human-level general intelligence because they can’t do complex multi-step reasoning like you need to do science. They can’t invent new weird things outside of their training data,” stated Herzel.
“They can also spread misinformation and people are saying we should suspend them because of that. This is very strange to me. Why didn’t we ban the internet? The Internet does just that. This gives you more information at your fingertips. And spreads nonsense and misinformation. I think we should have a free society. And just like we shouldn’t ban the Internet, we shouldn’t ban it,” he added.
AI job replacement: Threat or promise?
Q: Isn’t their potential to replace people’s jobs a threat?
The AI guru, believes that around 80 per cent of human jobs can be made obsolete without AGI, and that the use of such systems will increase in the next few years. According to him, this is not a threat, but a benefit as people will find better things to do for a living, and jobs involving paperwork should be automated.
“You can probably make obsolete maybe 80 per cent of the jobs that humans do without AGI, in my opinion. Not with ChatGPT as a product. But with such systems that will appear in the next few years. I don’t think it’s a threat. I think this is a benefit. People can find better things to do for a living than work for a living… Virtually every job that involves paper work needs to be automated. The problem I see is in the interim, when artificial intelligence makes one human job after another obsolete… I don’t know how to (solve) all the social problems,” he suggested.
Are we ready for a world with advanced robots?
Q: What can robots do for society today and what will they be able to do in the future if AGI is achieved?
A lot of positive impact can be achieved with AI, suggested the expert. As demonstrated by Grace, a robot nurse, at the Web Summit Rio, humanoid robots can be used to improve the lives of elderly people living alone in nursing homes in the US by providing emotional and social support, answering questions, and helping them with tasks such as calling their children or ordering online.
“A lot of good can be done with AI. As Grace (a robot nurse), we demonstrated at Web Summit Rio. In the US, many elderly people live alone in nursing homes. And they’re not bad physically—you’ve got health care, food, and big-screen TV—but they’re bad in terms of emotional and social support. So if you put humanoid robots in it that will answer your questions, listen to your stories, help you call your kids or order something online, then you will improve people’s lives. Once you get to AGI, they become even better companions. In this case, you do not eliminate human jobs. Because basically there is a shortage of people who want to work as nurses and nursing assistants. I think education is also going to be an amazing market for humanoid robots as well as home help,” he stated.
Navigating the regulation of AI
Herzel suggested that AI development should involve public participation and aim for positive impact, however, he noted that the companies funding AI research are primarily focused on maximizing shareholder value.
You need society to develop these artificial intelligences to do good things. And in the management of artificial intelligence there should be a certain participation of the population. All this is technically possible. The problem is that the companies that fund most AI research don’t care about doing good things. They care about maximizing shareholder value,” he concluded.