UJ’s Prof Alex Broadbent explores Artificial Intelligence (AI) predictions for the future

The future of AI looks different depending on who you ask. Some artificial intelligence predictions are more optimistic than others.

There is excellent scientific evidence that most human predictions are wrong, beyond our immediate physical and social environment. Bold, confident claims attract the most attention, yet these are the most likely to be wrong. For this reason, much of what you have probably heard about what the world will be like in or after the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is false.

These were the sentiments shared at a Public Lecture hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Faculty of Humanities and the Library with Prof Alex Broadbent, Executive Dean: Faculty of Humanities on “Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) won’t happen” on Monday, 29 April 2019.

Ai Predictions

“What excites me about 4IR is the focus on critical thinking and creative skills that it brings. These are sorely lacking. Public debate is without any kind of nuance. And technology does offer both the means and the imperative to address this. There’s a market for hour-long podcasts. And people had better be able to think if they’re going to work out what is going on in a world where change and uncertainty are the norm,” said Prof Broadbent.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) forms part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is expected to fundamentally alter the way people live. We are in the midst of this revolution, and its end result is unknown. AI points towards a future where machines not only do all of the physical work, as they have done since the industrial revolution but also the “thinking” work – planning, strategizing and making decisions.

“I’m fully behind such prescriptions. But I doubt that many, if any, of the accompanying predictions will come true. And that matters, because these predictions are shaping policy decisions, research funding and even where we invest our hard-earned personal savings,” added Prof Broadbent.

“In addition, there is a good reason to doubt that counterfactual reasoning can be implemented on any computational platform. This means that machines will not be able to reason casually, to understand, or to predict, and thus that strong Artificial intelligence (AI) is not possible. Without strong AI, Fourth Industrial Revolution will not happen.”

Prof Broadbent ended the lecture by emphasising that most artificial intelligence predictions see AI as a tool that has huge potential to be used for good, but also has potential for less desirable outcomes like rampant joblessness, an eroding tax base or, the end of humanity. “Like any tool, it is ultimately the people wielding it that will decide its fate. How leaders predict AI will transform the future may differ slightly from person to person.”

Prof Alex Broadbent is the Executive Dean in the Faculty of Humanities, founding Director of the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, and Professor of Philosophy. Prof Broadbent is committed to finding philosophical problems in practical contexts, and to contributing something useful concerning them. In particular, he has been instrumental in establishing the philosophy of epidemiology as a distinct sub-discipline at the intersection of philosophy of medicine and science (his 2013 book Philosophy of Epidemiology was the first book-length treatment of the topic). He also works on the philosophy of law, and especially the use of scientific evidence in law.

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