The debate on whether artificial intelligence (AI) is a boon or a bane for humanity is more divisive than ever. According to a recent survey by Maveron and A/B Consulting, Americans are evenly split, with 37% expressing excitement about AI and 40% harboring fear. The potential impact is similarly divisive, with 39% believing AI will make humans obsolete and 41% rejecting that notion.

As history has shown with previous technological advancements, the truth about AI likely lies somewhere in the middle. The outcome largely depends on how we use this technology and who wields it.

In this crucial moment, we collectively bear the responsibility of shaping AI’s role in transforming business and society. We must be discerning when embracing AI applications and allocate our resources wisely, be they technological, financial, or emotional.

AI’s Potential Upsides: In capable hands, AI has the potential to enhance efficiency in our lives by performing complex calculations at unprecedented speeds, allowing human resources to focus on more creative endeavors. Everyday examples include predictive text completion on our smartphones, traffic management by smart traffic lights, and increasingly accurate shopping and streaming recommendations.

These subtle AI-driven technologies have already integrated into our lives, underscoring that AI’s impact is not a future concern but a present reality. Beyond personal use cases, AI has significantly impacted various industries, from agriculture and supply chains to autonomous vehicles, streamlining processes and enhancing productivity.

For instance, Silent Eight, my company, employs machine learning to combat financial crime, aiding banks and financial institutions in meeting regulatory requirements and curbing illicit financial activities. Such applications have the potential to benefit society positively.

Beware of Hype and Bad Actors: Despite AI’s undeniable promise, it can be misused or overhyped, especially in an environment where companies append “AI” to their products to attract attention and funding. Adding “AI” to a company’s name or tech stack isn’t a universal solution to all technological challenges.

Moreover, not all companies claiming to solve the world’s problems through AI are genuinely addressing these issues, irrespective of their marketing prowess. It’s essential to evaluate AI and machine learning applications with scrutiny, implementing them only when they are the best-fit solutions.

AI’s Consequences: Mishandled AI can have grave consequences, extending beyond failed investments and wasted budgets. In sectors like healthcare and autonomous vehicles, an AI glitch or error could have life-or-death implications. In my field, a mistake might provide criminal enterprises with the funding they require for heinous acts.

Additionally, AI’s analysis and predictions are based on existing data, inheriting biases present in that data. These biases can perpetuate and even exacerbate existing societal issues. Whether it’s in corporate recruitment tools, criminal justice, or medicine, unmonitored AI applications can amplify biases, and they won’t recognize these patterns themselves.

Shaping AI Through Informed Choices: Companies that responsibly harness AI will set themselves apart through transparency about their technology’s usage, acknowledgment of its limitations, and a commitment to integrating human oversight into their business models.

As consumers and backers of AI, we have the power to influence its trajectory. When evaluating companies, consider the following criteria:

  1. Does the company use AI judiciously, or is it just an AI marketing gimmick?
  2. Does company leadership invite scrutiny and understand the importance of close AI oversight?
  3. Does the company acknowledge the essential role of human intervention in screening for biases and other areas where humans excel over algorithms?

The future of AI hinges on our choices as consumers and investors. We must critically assess which companies are genuinely harnessing AI’s potential for responsible and beneficial progress, rather than merely jumping on a lucrative bandwagon.

By Impact Lab