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Ample time for humans to 'kill' a robot takeover

I agree with Associate Opinion Editor Lydia Lim that we, humans, have the upper hand to manage and engineer solutions to ameliorate the potential social and economic threats engendered by artificial intelligence (AI) (What to do about robots and artificial intelligence; May 7).

Apocalyptic scenarios are predicated on humans helplessly watching AI take over the world.

Fortunately, humans have the wherewithal to intervene before the situation gets out of hand.

University of the West of England Bristol professor of electrical engineering Alan Winfield aptly illustrates our ultimate control over AI: "If we succeed in building human-equivalent AI and if that AI acquires a full understanding of how it works, and if it then succeeds in improving itself to produce super-intelligent AI, and if that super-AI, accidentally or maliciously, starts to consume resources, and if we fail to pull the plug, then, yes, we may well have a problem."

The development of AI does not happen overnight, thus allowing time to build in checks and balances at each stage.

Indeed, a "kill switch" is being developed for Google's DeepMind program, to be activated in the event of an attempted AI takeover.

On the job front, a properly designed robot tax may incentivise employers to use automation that is socially and economically beneficial to workers.

There may be tax breaks for companies that send their employees for retraining and upskilling to take on jobs that allow them to work with automation or in jobs that require the human touch.

Perhaps augmented reality could even deliver expert systems that do not require years of training to operate.

Universal basic income may have to be considered for people who have either been displaced or had their wages decreased by automation.

The Government may also have to subsidise reductions in working hours or pay, much like our present Workfare system.

There has to be better social protection for the rising numbers of people in the "gig economy", which is often insecure and sometimes exploitative.

As we adapt to technology, society would have to make adjustments so that humans on the whole will be better off.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 14, 2017, with the headline 'Ample time for humans to 'kill' a robot takeover'. Print Edition | Subscribe