As artificial intelligence drives a fourth industrial revolution, fears and doubts about AI are pervasive. In the first industrial revolution, machines began replacing manual labor, and there were human concerns over the change. Here is demystifying AI. What’s fiction and what’s worth the fanfare?

What is the truth about Artificial Intelligence today?

At hand today, in the fourth industrial revolution, are rational and irrational fears. With any new radical thinking and ideas, disruption in the status quo and an influx of unknown information — people have fear. Think caveman and fire. Great idea — but it was scary because it was unknown.

To embrace and benefit from AI, it’s important that we take a moment to reflect on the lessons of past technological change in order to better plan for minimizing risk. We want to maximize the value of AI’s increasing importance.

In addition, we also must find ways to convince skeptics that AI, ultimately, will help people in innumerable ways.

Debunking two of the most common — most concerning myths about AI.

Myth #1: AI will replace jobs and maybe even humans.

When machine production began replacing some types of manual labor in the 18th century, unemployment rose for a period of time. But that’s not the whole story, and not what’s happening now.

Implementing new technologies changes human jobs, but it doesn’t necessarily remove them. We see the new AI technology as a great addition to most human jobs.

The data bear this out: Gartner has made a case for just how many jobs AI will add, claiming that, by 2020, AI will take 1.8 million jobs and replace them with 2.3 million new ones. That’s a net gain of 500,000 jobs. AI will benefit our employment landscape.

The long-term impact of AI.

What these jobs will look like is described somewhat in a PricewaterhouseCoopers study gauging the long-term impact of AI. While PwC found that there will be some job displacement, as some positions would be made redundant by AI technologies, new jobs will be created.

AI opens doors to things like new productivity channels and a need for new responses to new consumer demands.

PwC also predicted a need for “new types of workers who will focus on thinking creatively about how AI can be developed and applied [and to] build, maintain, operate, and regulate these emerging technologies.”

It will be exciting to watch a whole new landscape of creative tech jobs unfold due to advancements in AI. For example, there’s already an emerging field dedicated to AI marketing tools that specialize in helping businesses take that creative and targeted next step.

Robot Overloads?

Beyond concerns of job loss and job change, though, are some general stressors about what it means for AI to be better than humans at just about everything in a little over 40 years. If you’ve read any sci-fi novels or seen any sci-fi movies in which Robot Overlords are in control, this fear will be familiar.

Realistically, though, there are some places AI cannot, and will not, go. For example, the Gartner study found that attempts to have AI replace sales associates at real estate agencies will be unsuccessful. Most individuals prefer interacting with knowledgeable people over interacting with machines. We associate more pleasing experiences and empathy with real humans.

Some of these fears about robots taking over our lives reflect some ignorance about how pervasive AI already is.

For example, have you called for help with a transaction and found yourself responding to computer prompts? That is AI in action. Customer service call centers are a huge AI success story, and it’s not because the tech is replacing humans.

The success is because tech is helping humans to provide better customer service. Helping each other, especially in tech support is an important distinction that still may feel a little sci-fi but is to everyone’s great benefit.

We don’t need to be concerned about “will a machine be smarter than us?” However, we’ll all likely celebrate when “machines are making us smarter.”

The fact is that AI isn’t trying to be human. Just ask your AI device: “Alexa, would you pass the Turing test?” She’ll respond: “I don’t have to. I’m not pretending to be human.”

Myth #2: AI will ruin privacy.

For centuries, businesses have been about tangible things: brick-and-mortar places, hardware, “stuff.” Now, what businesses capitalize on is more nebulous. Dollars are realized by how well customers are treated, how well their data is protected, and how trustworthy they feel a business is.

The three tied-together concerns for business.

Among the three tied-together concerns, privacy is paramount, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Tools such as facial recognition expose valid concerns regarding a person’s right to privacy.

These fears are discussed a lot today with regard to the use of such tools in crime-stopping. And in many cases, it’s unclear what a person’s rights are or will be, as the legal system hasn’t caught up to the technology with regard to the transparency, procedures, and other concerns at play.

Facial recognition risks aren’t the only concerns.

When a customer uses a “free” tool — think Google or Facebook — their data is gathered and their patterns monitored, and all of this information is fed into machine learning tools. No surprise that all of it is used to create targeted ads.

Consumer data mining.

Consumers of these free sites waive their rights to privacy, effectively allowing this type of data mining. The data mining software’s terms and conditions are ones that most agree to blindly. These terms are seemingly impossible to opt-out of at this time — if you want to use that tool.

Then, the big data sets created by customers of freeware isn’t used only in such seemingly-innocent ways as target marketing. Machine learning algorithms can track behavior patterns across apps and platforms, creating a semblance of human behavior that can be used in more nefarious ways.

Your information from social media — and everywhere else — is provided as a piece of information to your HR and health insurance companies.

We’d be naive to think that isn’t a possibility, even a likelihood. Ethical debates about AI and the privacy challenges it presents are ongoing. As AI is used more and more, such ethical debates will heighten. Undoubtedly, there will be legal challenges, too. All of these things in tandem will define AI’s boundaries.

There is a saving grace here beyond the ethical debate, and it’s the almighty bottom line.

While AI could ruin privacy, I don’t think it’s going to. Customers aren’t going to spend their money in places that will allow their data to be exploited in ways that undermine their interest.

It’s right to be concerned about privacy and to watch what’s happening in the space. It’s wrong to panic.

Conclusion.

As AI grows and changes our jobs, business, and lives — what do we need to worry about, if not these myths?

We need to worry about the people who will be left behind by tech advances instead of seizing opportunities to learn and improve from such advances. We also need to worry about dispelling fear and increasing buy-in.

What we stand to realize from AI is far greater than what we stand to lose. It has life-saving potential, even: Stanford has published that AI is better at predicting pneumonia than radiologists are.

As more and more of these kinds of advances are discovered and embraced, we’ll realize that just as the first industrial revolution raised our overall quality of life, so, too, will this one.

Fear will lessen and trust will build in AI as a necessary and welcome part of our future.

Curtis Peterson

Curtis Peterson

Curtis Peterson, the SVP of Operations at RingCentral, has more than 20 years’ experience managing information technology and carrier-scale data and packet voice communication networks. At companies ranging in size from startups to Fortune 500 firms, Curtis has managed teams responsible for engineering, project management, automation, operations, data security, network security, data center, carrier operations, and internet backbone design and operation. Curtis has been a pioneer in VoIP services in the business communications space and has been developing, launching, and operating Class 4 VoIP and customer-facing hosted PBX systems since 2002.