Why our fear of AI is unfounded and misplaced

AI is made by natural intelligence — human beings. [iStockphoto]

Why do we fear artificial intelligence (AI)? Why should we fear what is artificial unless we are not real? 

We all know AI is made by natural intelligence - human beings. Why should we fear what we have made ourselves?  

The issue is deeper than the anticipated job losses. We are paying the price for our sins. 

We have persistently refused to invest in research and development (R&D). 

We disdain deep thinking, opting to go the easier way. What was the content of the last discussion you had with friends or colleagues? 

What is mostly shared on our WhatsApp groups? Is it silly jokes or topics like quantum computing or AI?  

Most high school students hate Maths.  I once taught Maths in a girls’ school and experienced the disdain for the subject firsthand. 

Sciences are not loved either. Which subject teachers had nicknames? During which lessons did you sleep?  

In our universities, most students study social sciences. Real sciences are labelled hard and avoided by the middle and upper classes. Can you contest that?  

Think of leaders in AI like China or the US, they have over the years focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

They have developed computer science to the extent that algorithms and computer programmes can mimic what we do, which is the essence of AI. 

Check data on what graduates from Chinese universities study. 

Remember the US Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), formerly the Endless Frontier Act? 

It was a reaction to China’s advances in areas such as AI, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications and biotechnology and energy production espoused by car batteries.  Do we have an equivalent Act? 

But relax, AI is not that complicated; forget the hype. AI has been there since 1956. Remember Allan Turing? 

Think of the law where we use precedents to make decisions. We can do that in other areas. 

The more the precedents we have, the better the decisions we can make. Add all the precedents and you have artificial intelligence. Any new learning is added to the previous one. Have you heard of machine learning?  

Even ChatGPT is about picking from a large data base or precedents and using them to respond to your questions.  

After all, in life, most activities are repeated, both at home and the workplace. Why then should AI frighten us?

For instance, with autonomous driving, it’s just brake, accelerate or turn!  Fear is based on our lack of readiness than complexity.  

We have made little contribution to development of the knowledge base, from which AI draws.  We are ignorant, and decisions are unlikely to favour us. Try checking Kenyan issues on ChatGPT.  

It’s our moment of truth.  By being artificial in our approach to STEM, we shall be controlled by artificial intelligence.

Think of it: we are told Romans were conquered by the Barbarians. How could they be conquered by a less advanced civilisation? They were probably not that advanced. Could we be less advanced than AI? Don’t take offence!   

Shall we be overwhelmed by AI because we have not invested in it through R&D and its base, STEM? 

Think of the accumulated wisdom that our elderly draw from. The same applies to AI. The more knowledge we generate, the more we can tap from AI. In AI, to those who have, more will be given.  

Where do we go from here? We must invest in R&D and in STEM from primary school to university.  

We must use our real intelligence to build artificial intelligence. After all, AI is limited, we are not. We should not fear AI, we just need to create it and control it. We have no shortage of natural intelligence to do that!  

About 45 years ago, our government banned new Maths. We probably did it in Class Five and Base Two, the building blocks of computer science in the same class.  

The next time I came across probability was in Form Three and set theory in first year at the university.  We pre-emptied our leadership in computer science, which would have given us a head-start in AI. We should not let politics crowd everything. 

Beyond underinvesting in R&D, we should introduce some concepts in STEM much earlier in school. 

We do that in social sciences. When did you first hear of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? 

Think of Ribonucleic Acid (RNA), quantum computing, gene programming, computational chemistry and other modern concepts.  When will they reach our classrooms and lecture theatres?  

Being followers rarely wins you accolades in R&D. You should not get into the market after the harvest. Bei ya jioni (late evening price) does not work in R&D. 

Like computers before, AI is a tool to leverage ethically and with a smile. Do you still fear AI? You must be artificial yourself!