By Invitation

Should we regulate AI? Can we?

Artificial intelligence is viewed by many as the defining technology of the 21st century. But how can we ensure that its benefits outweigh the potential risks?

This week marked a grim anniversary of sorts for artificial intelligence (AI). On a Sunday night this time last year, Ms Elaine Herzberg stepped off an ornamental median strip to cross Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. It was just before 10pm and the 49-year-old homeless woman was pushing a bicycle laden with shopping bags. She had nearly made it to the other side of the four-lane road when an Uber test vehicle travelling at 70kmh collided with her from the right. Ms Herzberg was taken to hospital but died of her injuries, unwittingly earning a place in history as the first pedestrian death caused by a self-driving car.

The opportunities and the threats of technology often advance hand in hand. The term "artificial intelligence" was coined at a 1956 conference in Dartmouth College in the United States. Twelve years later, Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey offered a chilling vision of a machine empowered to override the decisions of its human counterparts, the HAL 9000's eerily calm voice explaining why a spacecraft's mission to Jupiter was more important than the lives of its crew.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Should we regulate AI? Can we?'. Subscribe