You've heard it in pretty much every new gadget release in the past few years, with everything getting upgraded with Artificial Intelligence technology: phones, laptops, streaming platforms, and so much more. What does "AI" really mean in our constantly evolving world?

/ 24 March 2021

The dictionary defines Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the simulation of human intelligence in “smart” machines, meaning that these machines are programmed to learn how humans behave, think, and make decisions, and replicate this knowledge to provide humans with what they need, ahead of time.

Think of Siri, or Alexa, or any other voice-prompted assistants you get with your mobile phone. The fact that you can actually talk to your phone, and they understand it as instructions—and sometimes even converse with you about it—is a classic example of how AI has radicalized our lives. Other examples are facial recognition on our phones, the recommendations we get from Spotify, Netflix, and YouTube based on the content we consume, automatic fillers in search bars, and many other subtle workings of technology.

But why is there so much debate surrounding Artificial Intelligence, then, if it’s able to give us all these advancements and impressive predictions? Isn’t that, in itself, a good thing?

The answer lies in the data machines have to consume in order to process this information and eventual prediction. More specifically, the line between what’s ethical in terms of the data we’re giving up, and the technological advancements we hope to receive in return. Is it worth it to feed smart machines with our personal data to get these personalized experiences?

To give you a clearer understanding of the whole discourse revolving around AI, here are two sets of pros and cons to think about as consumers:


Reduced Time To Do Tasks

With smart devices that predict our actions, based on its observance of our actions with it so far, it’s a lot faster to do things like research (auto-fill suggestions), navigate our important files (just ask your voice assistant), edit unwanted elements in photos (most editing platforms have AI-supported tools), and so many more things that range from the smallest tasks, to the most time-consuming activities we usually avoid. Of course, there are a lot more examples of AI speeding up the process for us, most of which are things that we might have never even considered or noticed.

Personalized Experience

One of the biggest advantages of AI is that it allows machines to really understand the individual consumer—what you like, what you don’t like, and everything in between. With this information, smart machines and platforms can curate the software for you. This is how you enter rabbit holes on YouTube with video after video of things that interest you, and before you know it, it’s been hours since you got on your phone. It’s how your Facebook algorithm shows you posts of friends related to your own, how Netflix suggests shows and movies that you know you’ll love, and so on.



Data Privacy Threats

The price we have to pay to get these personalized experiences and reduced task time is our private data, information on who we are, where we live, who our friends are, how we behave online, what we like and don’t like, and so much more. It already sounds intrusive with just that, but there’s also the fact that marketing companies, brands and businesses, and other forces can buy our data to feed their own capitalist gains. Think Facebook ads targeted at you and other people like you, specifically; marketing agencies trying to understand what message to show you to persuade you to buy their product; and political parties getting to know how best to campaign their candidates to you based on your online behavior.

Other people also bring to light the possibility of sinister forces buying data to spy on private individuals for whatever reason. There’s also the threat of hackers getting our information and using our identity to do criminal acts, or just to simply rob us of our money from the bank and other assets. There’s a lot of discussions going around trying to determine the limits of what data machines are actually allowed to acquire, and what they’re allowed to share.

More Dependency, Less Humanity

We’ve seen so many science-fiction movies depicting what can go wrong when technology takes over our lives, and with all the advancements and innovations made possible with Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, that might not be as “fictional” as we once thought. Now that machines are getting smarter with data that we ourselves inputted in it (with or without our knowledge), there’s a growing dependency on machinery, and less on what we can actually do and create with our own hands and minds.

With machines thinking for us, it also lessens brain activity for some of the most mundane things. Ask yourself: when was the last time you computed a math problem by yourself, and not with the use of your phone’s calculator? When was the last time you read a book or asked a person to know about something instead of just going on the Internet to Google it? As we deploy all these small things to technology, it’s just a matter of time before they also take over big tasks like clerical jobs and manual labor industries.


So with convenience and efficiency on one hand, there’s privacy and tech-dependency on the other. What do we have to sacrifice as a society to get one or the other, in the name of advancement and innovation?