“History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.”

Godzilla toy. (Photo: Fluxoid)

As tech experts debate, anxious scientists wring their nervous hands, and world governments salivate over it, the onward march of Artificial Intelligence continues utterly unfazed.

Like so many other cataclysmic and world-changing events, it seems to have happened little by little and all at once.

AI has rapidly advanced in recent years, driven by breakthroughs in machine learning, deep learning, and computational power. These advancements have enabled AI systems to perform complex tasks and outperform humans in certain domains. Given the momentum and progress made, it would be practically impossible to halt the continuous innovation and improvement in AI technologies.

A motley global community of scientists, engineers, and organizations is busily pioneering AI, even now. The widespread dissemination of knowledge, collaboration, and competition in the field would make it well nigh impossible to halt progress universally. Even if regulations or restrictions were imposed in one country, others would pursue AI advancements.

In addition, AI has already found applications across diverse sectors, including healthcare, finance, transportation, and entertainment. These novel new uses have demonstrated the potential to enhance productivity, efficiency, and decision-making processes. The practical benefits derived from AI systems make it unlikely for organizations and industries to abandon their utilization of AI technologies.

Since warning about the weaponization potential of new technology is extremely unlikely to put everyone off — even the “good guys” — and since the AI genie is already well and truly out of the bottle anyway, AI is likely here to stay.

Given that strong probability, what jobs and industries are most likely to be disrupted by advancements in AI technology over the next five years?

Already, there have been a few surprises. Most of us saw automation coming a long time ago — a slow-moving glacier that always seemed likely to replace human workers in factory and manual labor settings. The onset of COVID-19 likely accelerated the process of replacing some front-line workers with tech solutions. Ordering kiosks, self-checkout, and delivery services have turned from a slow-moving creep into a sudden inundation.

In China, the world’s first — but not last — AI prosecutors are already hard at work filing charges and participating in court cases involving the top ten crimes in China.

That one of those crimes is political dissent may be giving human rights organizations a bit of a pause, but AI prosecutors — and their likely eventual counterparts, AI defense attorneys — are almost certain to increase exponentially in the coming decade.

Last week, intrepid scientists used AI to develop a new antibiotic. But another AI may — or may not — have executed its handler in a simulated war game exercise.

Nor is AI advancement happening in a vacuum. Where AI strikes next may hinge on non-tech factors.

“Hollywood is staring down the barrel of a triple strike,” reported Alissa Wilkinson for Vox on June 2, 2023. “What happens if everyone walks off the job?”

“The Hollywood writers strike marked its one-month anniversary on Friday, with no signs of slowing down,” warned Wilkinson. “While other guilds in the industry are still on the job — except when they’re blocked by picket lines — the writers may soon get company on those picket lines.”

“Two other major entertainment guilds, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), also entered the summer with looming contract expiration dates,” Wilkinson noted. “Both groups’ agreements with AMPTP, the trade association that represents the industry’s film and TV productions companies, end on June 30. A lot could happen between now and then, but the situation is looking dicey.”

“Here’s what’s most significant about all of this: All three unions have never gone on strike at the same time, in the history of Hollywood,” wrote Wilkinson. “The fact that this scenario is possible, even likely, emphasizes how extraordinary this moment is in the entertainment business.”

Wilkinson makes an excellent point: This is an extraordinary moment in the entertainment business. The last time the Hollywood screenwriters went on strike, the world was treated to a glut of “unscripted” programming, and so-called “reality” television hit its heyday.

Like companies furiously working to automate away front-facing customer service agents in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19, Hollywood powerbrokers are probably even now considering high-tech solutions to the age-old problem of labor disputes.

With computer-generated, AI-driven images becoming ever more indistinguishable from real humans, live actors may soon go the way of traveling theatre troupes.

That is, there might still be some entertainment options produced the “old-fashioned way” — i.e. with human actors — just as there are still live plays being performed on and off Broadway all over the world.

But the vast majority of the entertainment content we are all currently enjoying on our smartphones and tablets is filmed for rebroadcast. That may be about to change. Soon, our social media feeds and streaming service queues may be filled with movies, shorts, and television shows written, directed, and presented entirely by AI.

“Technology has always been a major driver in labor negotiations,” as Wilkinson noted for Vox. “But the major companies’ use of streaming services, and their demonstrated interest in cutting out humans through the use of tech, poses an existential threat to everyone who makes the TV, movies, and other scripted entertainment that brings in billions of dollars every year.”

AI technology is coming to be seen as a driver of economic growth and competitiveness. Many countries and companies view AI as a strategic asset for innovation, productivity, and maintaining a competitive edge. Given the economic incentives involved, our love/hate relationship with AI may have only just begun.

And where this new wrecking ball will strike next is anyone’s guess.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)