Artificial intelligence poses a greater challege to the world than terrorism, the incoming president of the British Science Association has warned.
Professor Jim Al-Khalili, a physicist at the University of Surrey, warned that progress in artificial intelligence is ‘happening too fast’ and is not being regulated well enough.
He said that AI will make Britain increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks and lead to greater inequality as thousands are rendered unemployed.
Artificial intelligence poses a greater challege to the world than terrorism, the incoming president of the British Science Association (pictured) has warned
At a briefing in London ahead of the British Science Festival in Hull this week, he said: ‘Until maybe a couple of years ago had I been asked what is the most pressing and important conversation we should be having about our future, I might have said climate change or one of the other big challenges facing humanity, such as terrorism, antimicrobial resistance, the threat of pandemics or world poverty.
‘But today I am certain the most important conversation we should be having is about the future of AI. It will dominate what happens with all of these other issues for better or for worse.
‘If Russian cyber hackers were able to meddle with the 2016 US elections, then what is stopping cyber terrorists from hacking into any future AI controlled power grids, transport systems, banks of military installations.
‘Our government has a responsibility to protect society from potential threats and risks.’
He added: ‘Many people are becoming increasingly nervous about what they see as unchecked progress in AI.
‘There are valid concerns about the widespread implementation of AI leading to an increase in inequality. Robotics and autonomous systems are predicted to bring about job losses, primarily affecting workers in low-skilled roles, and there is still little research on how the future effects of automation might vary across the UK.
Humanoid Robot Sophia is seen during the Discovery exhibition on April 30, 2018 in Toronto, Canada
‘We are now seeing an unprecedented level of interest, investment and technological progress in the field, which many people, including myself, feel is happening too fast.’
Al-Khalili also warned week that without greater transparency and public engagement the full potential of AI may not be realised.
Artificial Intelligence promises an even bigger revolution than the internet yet could be stifled in the UK by a fear-driven public backlash.
In the absence of concerted action by academics, the Government and industry, the rapidly advancing technology could end up ‘uncontrolled and unregulated’ in the hands of a few supremely powerful companies, he said.
Previewing his presidential address at this year’s British Science Festival in Hull, which begins this week, Prof Al-Khalili spoke of the dream and dangers of AI.
He pointed out that the UK was at the forefront of the technology, which is predicted to contribute up to $15trillion (£11.7 trillion) to the global economy by 2030.
Theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili
But there was a risk of AI going the same way as GM (genetic modification) and being seen as frightening and sinister by members of the public and a ‘poison chalice’ by politicians.
Prof Al-Khalili said: ‘There’s a real danger of a public backlash against AI potentially similar to the one we had with GM back in the early days of the millennium.
‘If the public become disengaged our leaders will see it as less of a priority. Regulations will need to be in place and they may come too late.
He wants to see AI included in the school curriculum, even though that would be like ‘shifting a giant tanker in the middle of the ocean’, and the focus of myth-dispelling public education programmes.
While AI was often seen as science fiction, it was already becoming part of daily life, Al-Khalili said.
AI manifested itself in virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa, as well as the ‘almost psychic awareness’ of Google, Facebook and Amazon.
In future, the technology could completely reshape society.
‘AI is going to transform our lives in the coming decades even more than the internet has over the last few decades,’ said Prof Al-Khalili. ‘Let’s make sure we’re ready for it.’
Prof Al-Khalili’s new documentary ‘The Joy of AI’ was launched on Tuesday, September 4, on BBC4.