Robots save lives, but they can also destroy them

While horror stories involving artificial intelligence are works of fiction, AI is not without its dangers.

Health care is one of the areas already using artificial intelligence.Health care is one of the areas already using artificial intelligence. (Source: TASR)

Martin Spano is the author of Artificial Intelligence in a Nutshell, a book that explores the mystified subject of artificial intelligence (AI) with simple, non-technical language. Spano’s passion for AI began after he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he insists this ever-changing technology is not just the subject for sci-fi novels and movies; artificial intelligence is present in our everyday lives.

The story of Skynet

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Skynet was software created for the U.S. Army to control its hardware in an effort to remove human error and slowness from critical military decisions. Soon after activating, it became self-aware and realised that humans wanted to deactivate it because they discovered it was becoming conscious. Skynet responded by seizing military hardware and started an all-out nuclear war that killed over three billion people. Furthermore, it used all its power to wipe humanity off the earth, the only possibility it saw for its self-preservation.

This narrative from Terminator might be engaging in the cinema, but in reality, it is highly improbable. The artificial intelligence revolution, which is already currently underway, it much more subtle, but no less profound. Artificial intelligence automates many activities previously done by humans. Due to its immense power and energy, it can do them more precisely and almost without interruption. What the industrial revolution did to the blue collar workers, artificial intelligence is doing to the white collar ones. The latest estimates predict that nearly half of our jobs are in danger of being substituted by artificial intelligence in the near future. Automation could lead to mass unemployment on an unprecedented scale. On another hand, it saves humans from the drudgery of often dangerous and unfulfilling work, enabling them, if given a chance, to retrain for a more desired and better-paying job. Let's look at the impacts of artificial intelligence in detail.


Artificial intelligence has long been used in banking for fraud detection as it can learn the habits of a bank customer. It can, therefore, spot and identify suspicious transactions and flag them immediately for later review. It can also be used for the extension of bank opening hours by enabling customers to execute operations that do not need human supervision.


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Similar to finance, artificial intelligence can also be used for fraud detection by governments. It enables the more effective collection of tax money and its consequent improved reallocation. Due to the cumulative effects of population aging and the lower birth rate, one of the growing worries in society is the collapse of a social state. The idea is that the current system is unsustainable if there are not enough young people working to sustain pension and health care costs. However, these premises ignore the changes artificial intelligence brings about. Artificial health care assistants supervised by humans can take care of an ever-increasing number of elderly that need the attention. Due to the higher efficiency of government processes coupled with a significant increase in productivity, the general wealth might also be more considerable. Retirees in the future are therefore much better off than those today, even though there are many more of them.


Car companies are adding features that make cars more and more automatised. These aids assist the driver and take control of the vehicle in case the driver does something that would lead to an accident. Some companies are even claiming to possess self-driving cars, yet this functionality remains deactivated, or its use is discouraged. The problem is not in the technology; autonomous vehicles that have already been tested have proven to be extremely reliable. It is the legislature that is lagging. Besides that, there are ethical, moral and legal problems to be solved before governments can allow autonomous cars to operate.

As an example, imagine that an autonomous vehicle kills someone by some sort of failure. This event is much less likely than in the case of a human driver, but we need to consider it. Who is responsible? The passengers, the company that produced the vehicle or the engineers that implemented the self-driving functionality?

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Autonomous cars might also bring about some moral dilemmas. Consider the following situation. The autonomous vehicle is driving on a motorway near the cliff. Suddenly, young kids appear out of nowhere in the middle of the highway. What should the car do? Hit the kids, thus killing them and saving passengers, or turn the car toward the cliff, saving the kids but killing passengers? Morally you might choose the first option, but consider yourself a passenger. Would you buy a car knowing it deliberately kills you on purpose in extreme cases? Wouldn't you rather have a car that saves you at any cost?

Health care

Artificial intelligence is aiding health personnel to make better and more accurate decisions when evaluating the patient's status. In 2018 Chinese Biomind defeated radiologists in a competition to correctly identify a medical condition. Radiologists are the most in danger of being replaced by machines soon.


In the beginnings of the field of artificial intelligence, researchers thought that only a machine with general artificial intelligence would be able to achieve human-level mastery of chess. However, as we found out, to beat a human in chess, it is enough, thanks to exponential advances in raw computer power, to calculate the best possible moves and win a game without really thinking in a genuine human sense.

The situation in Go, an old board game, is different due to the much greater complexity of the game. However, a deep learning approach implemented by DeepMind, a company owned by Google, also beat a human master in 2016. Artificial intelligence is also used to generate nonplayer characters in computer games to create a perception of thinking and strategising in these characters.

News and literature

Perhaps you haven't noticed, but some of the news articles you read each day are not written by humans anymore. While the scope of articles written by artificial intelligence is limited mostly to the financial and sports reviews, due to the advances in natural language processing and understanding, it is highly probable we will see more of these articles in the future. Artificial intelligence is starting to make a debut in writing screenplays and novels. Although these often do not make sense, it is only a matter of time until they make it onto the bestseller list.


Fighting a war without having any human casualties on your side is the dream of all military commanders.This is a promise of advanced autonomous weapons. These autonomous weapons might be trained to kill only enemy soldiers. However, it is also a dream for any dictator that wishes to use it to execute ethnic cleansing. Alternatively, imagine a malevolent person wanting to cause harm. Artificial intelligence, if misused, could cause unprecedented damage.

The Slovak Spectator will publish more extracts from Spano’s book in the coming weeks.

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