AI has been heralded as the future. But what are the risks?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most exciting future technologies we’re encountering. And it’s recognized as such by almost all businesses worldwide. 56% of all respondents to a massive McKinsey survey of businesses report AI adoption in at least one function, up from 50% in 2020. Adoption is most common are service operations, product and service development, and marketing and sales – but has potential usage in almost all areas.

AI allows businesses to operate more quickly, smoothly, and with fewer mistakes – in theory. There are plenty of issues that have been identified with bias in artificial intelligence in the past, but when operated correctly, it’s something that is meant to reduce many of the issues that have plagued the way businesses work in the past.

That’s in theory. In practice, AI does have its own issues – and some of them we haven’t yet seen occur. That’s what makes it important to acknowledge the potential risks – as well as the potential benefits – of using AI in our lives.

Where we are at

AI has become one of the main ways in which we live and is touching more and more of our lives. From Netflix recommendations to suggesting the best possible routes as we travel, to offering personalized financial services that are tailored to our needs and interests, there’s a near-endless list of benefits to everything we do by using AI.

It’s becoming ubiquitous, common in all areas and aspects of how we live. And with that comes more understanding and acceptance of AI. We’re increasingly less scared of it and more trusting that the results it comes to must be correct because there’s no way that it could be wrong.

But that overlooks some of the issues that do exist with AI that haven’t yet been identified. One of the key ones is the fact that AI remains, for all its increased usage, a black box to the majority of people. We simply don’t understand how it works or why it works – and instead just trust that it does. That works well when the AI systems themselves do: but it doesn’t account for the potential nefarious or malicious changing of AI without us realizing.

When AI goes wrong

One key problem with a world run by AI is that we’ve become so reliant on it that we’re not necessarily conscious of how it works. Even some of the largest websites that use AI struggle to harness their algorithms, letting them run wild – as the radicalization of many of us through websites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have shown.

But that lack of transparency over how algorithms actually operate and how AI shifts and shapes our perceptions comes with other risks. If even the platforms that operate them don’t understand how they work, then it is challenging to understand how they’re potentially being used for malicious purposes. If people don’t know how an AI algorithm is meant to work correctly, then it’s impossible to know when it’s working incorrectly.

One of the biggest cyber challenges associated with AI is this potential malicious misfiring of AI systems. It’s eminently possible for someone to hack into an AI-powered system and adapt it for their own purposes. That could mean pushing videos that will radicalize an individual without them realizing it or promoting adverts that push one point of view through social media platforms.

For that reason, politicians and campaigners worldwide are promoting the idea of algorithmic and AI transparency. In November 2021, the UK government proposed that its public sector algorithms would be transparent so that people could see how it works – and if it discriminates against people. If it works well, it could be pushed to other businesses, making things more equal for all. It’s one tool to ensure that AI algorithms don’t misfire and cause more harm than good.

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