Is AI Revolution or Evolution?

The hype around artificial intelligence has reached fever pitch. Tech giants like Google and Microsoft proclaim it as revolutionary as electricity or fire. Venture capitalists have invested billions into AI startups, with over 50 valued at over $1 billion since 2019. Consultancies predict monumental economic impact, with McKinsey estimating AI could add $2.6-4.4 trillion annually across sectors like banking and healthcare. That’s equivalent to creating a new UK economy every year!

But is this revolutionary hype justified? Sceptics like technologist Gary Marcus suggest a “gut-wrenching correction” in valuations is coming as the limitations of current AI become clear. He argues the promised revenues haven’t materialised and may never come.

Current AI systems do have major flaws. A key one is unreliability – AI often “hallucinates” or confabulates facts. Marcus gives the example of early Google Translate rendering “I’m going to eat a lawyer for lunch” when fed the French “I eat an avocado for lunch.” It picked the statistically probable but nonsensical translation. While systems are improving context, Marcus argues such hallucinations are inherent limitations, not easily fixed by just adding more data.

For applications requiring high accuracy like military systems, unreliability is unacceptable. Per the US DoD’s chief AI officer, current systems place too high a “cognitive load” on users to determine right from wrong. And imperfect AI output risks polluting training data, threatening “model collapse” where systems spew more nonsense. Rather than improve, AI risks simply amplifying the misinformation online.

But investors offer counterarguments. Firstly, AI can still boost productivity even if imperfect. Many uses like marketing copy require only moderate accuracy. Secondly, AI can solve narrow real-world problems by analysing live data, like optimising supply chains. Thirdly, revolutionary new services and business models enabled by AI are still to come, just as electricity enabled appliances and manufacturing advances after initial electrification.

For now, only big tech is profiting from the AI gold rush. Most startups will likely fail. But as with past bubbles, some enduring innovations and services are likely to emerge. AI does have limitations and progress will be gradual. But it can still transform specific sectors and use cases. Rather than a sudden revolution, AI’s impact may follow an S-curve like other technologies – slowly at first, then rapid advancement, before levelling off. The full implications will only be realised over decades.

AI risks being overhyped, but also underappreciated. It presents challenges around trust and safety, but also great opportunities. With responsible development, AI can positively augment human capabilities and transcend current limitations. But a balanced perspective is needed – AI is neither magic nor menace, but a tool whose impact depends on how society chooses to wield it. An evolutionary, not revolutionary approach is wisest: high hopes tempered with pragmatism, patience and care.

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