Artificial intelligence: Are we all OK with it?

How is Ireland doing in its push to become a major player in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) market?

Remarkably well, says the Dublin law practice Mason Hayes & Curran. It looks forward to the strong future growth of the country’s expanding AI eco-system, which has spawned new, successful companies and attracted investment by corporations such as Google. It is estimated that AI will lift Ireland’s gross domestic product number by 11.6% to €48bn.

Some of the credit for this progress must go to University College Cork’s Professor Barry O’Sullivan, who is president of the European AI Association and a member of the European Union panel charged with making recommendations for the development of the EU’s AI strategy and to think about the challenges we will face in the workplace.

Mammoth is a word that does not even begin to describe the nature of the social and economic challenge that will face societies. Politicians tread nervously around the topic. Finance minister Paschal Donohoe did so last week at the Congress of the European Federation of Public Service Unions conference in Dublin. The structure of the Irish economy, he predicted, will undergo “profound change”, as robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence transformed the labour market. Some jobs might vanish, others will be redefined, and there will be new jobs in as yet unborn industries.

The rose-tinted view of this future world is that AI will liberate people from low- and medium-skilled, often dreary, tasks and free them for lives of leisure and creativity. This overlooks, though, two exceptionally important considerations: The human need for the social connections that traditional employment has satisfied, and the fact that creativity — ask a starving artist or writer — can’t be relied on to put bread on the table. A government that fails to understand and answer these concerns about machine intelligence must be judged to be guilty of human stupidity.

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