Why I Am Betting My Future On AI

Coming to UCR, I knew I had a passion for physics and mathematics, but also a general interest in computer science. If anything, my second choice was to study applied physics at Delft University of Technology. During my time at UCR, this sure has changed. While I still have a passion for physics and mathematics, I see clearly that computer science is what my future will entail. More specifically, it will be the study of Artificial Intelligence that I will devote my further academic career to. Indeed, I would even say that I am betting my future on it.

At any point in time, you can look back 50 years and point out an invention or innovation that irreversibly changed the world, more so than anything else. Around 1500, this would have been the printing press. Around 1820 this would have been the steam engine. Today this would be the Internet. I am certain that in 40 years or so, this will be Artificial Intelligence (AI).

With this claim, I am in good company. Great minds like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, but also Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg, all agree that AI is the future. What they do not agree on, however, is what this future will look like. People like Page and Zuckerberg believe that AI will ultimately make the world a better place, and it could perhaps even give us eternal life. Sceptics like Hawking, Gates and Musk are more concerned that AI will ultimately lead to an apocalypse, with human extinction as the end result (Skynet, anyone?).

Which one of these extremes will ultimately become reality, I do not know, but by now it should be clear that AI will revolutionize the world and the way we live. It has the potential to “make our lives easier, healthier, funnier, closer, cooler, longer, and kinder to the planet”, according to Elon Musk in Vanity Fair, as well as to destroy us. It is precisely in this spirit that I intend to make my future out of the study and development of AI.

AI is already all around us, albeit in a somewhat limited form. Digital assistants like Siri, film recommendations by Netflix, but also web advertisements all involve machine-learning, an important component of AI. This is also precisely what powers Google’s search engine, as well as what made mathematician Jim Simons the 76th richest person on the planet. It’s what flies our planes and will soon drive our cars.

Though AI is already all around us, it will only expand its grasp in the future. In terms of jobs, AI will first start to replace blue-collar jobs like transportation or manufacturing. Self-driving cars are already on schedule to hit the roads in the next few years, so it is not hard to imagine that this will cross over to the transportation industry. The same goes for manufacturing; robots have already started to replace humans on the assembly line, and there is no indication that this trend will come to a halt any time soon.

If there is any conclusion to draw from all of this, it must be that AI is on course to determine the future of human life, for better or worse. Whatever the future of AI may hold, I plan on playing a part in it.

Steven van de Graaf, Class of 2017, is a Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science major from Barendrecht, the Netherlands.


Featured Photo Source: Future of Life Institute

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