The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] In the era of artificial intelligence

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : Aug. 4, 2021 - 05:30

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Experts argue that artificial intelligence will bring a revolutionary change to our future lives. Of course, AI has its upsides and downsides: The good news is that AI will make our lives incredibly convenient, but the bad news is that it will replace humans in many jobs, such as cashiers, bank tellers, and even factory workers.

Indeed, it is happening already. For example, if you go to a self-checkout lane at a store, AI will greet you and instruct you to complete the checkout process. If you log in to a bank website on the internet, AI is waiting to guide you throughout the banking process without requiring you to visit the business center in person. When you watch Netflix, AI knows what your favorite movies are and presents the film titles that might interest you. When you purchase merchandise at Amazon or a drug store such as CVS, AI knows what you frequently purchase and offers them at discount prices.

I have noticed that the traffic signals in the New England town where I live are AI operated, too. When there is no heavy traffic, they become flexible and change lights efficiently according to the situation, so that cars do not have to wait for unnecessarily long periods. Indeed, AI is so smart that some time ago, we witnessed that an AI program defeated a renowned baduk master in Seoul.

It seems that AI is everywhere these days. Our smartphones, computers, smart TVs, smart cars, to name but a few. I have a smart car that can almost drive by itself, avoiding collisions and lane departures. When there is a car, person or obstacle ahead in close range, the AI in my car automatically applies the brakes and stops the car. Perhaps we will not need a driver’s license in the future because our cars will drive themselves without the need for a human operator. AI will also operate air taxies that can fly instead of running on the streets.

Futurists predict that AI will replace teachers and professors, too, because AI’s knowledge is unlimited and precise. Indeed, no human teachers can outsmart or outwit AI. We may argue that teachers do not simply transmit knowledge. Of course, they do much more than that. Nevertheless, in countries where radical teachers brainwash their students with certain political ideology, AI teachers will be seen as more desirable than human teachers.

AI will also be able to work in offices or factory assembly lines, replacing human workers. Perhaps that is why some governments are considering imposing taxes on AI. It is only natural that the “fourth industrial revolution” includes AI. If AI replaces human workers, there will be no more labor unions strong enough to manipulate the government. People who are concerned about the despotism of radical labor unions would surely like to see such a change.

Scientists also envisage law courts without human judges in the near future. When AI replaces judges, there will be no more human errors in sentencing. AI judges will be fair and reasonable, memorizing all judicial precedents. AI judges could be indispensable especially in countries where judges are not trustworthy because the separation of the three branches of government is not working properly. In those less advanced countries, the judiciary serves the administration and judges flatter politicians who wield power.

Watching the recent embarrassing incident derided by foreigners as the “MBC debacle,” we cannot help but think that TV stations, too, should be run by AI in the future. Due to the highly inappropriate, provoking photos and comments MBC broadcast during the entrance ceremony of participating countries at the Tokyo Olympics, Korea lost her friends and reputation in the international community. What were they thinking when they made such irreparable mistakes? How would they feel if other countries’ national TV stations showed the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge or Sampoong Department Store when they introduce Korean athletes? AI would never create such a mess.

Watching the political arena these days, we also wish AI could replace politicians in Korea and some other countries. Unlike their human counterparts, AI politicians will be neither self-righteous nor judgmental. Furthermore, AI will never be factional or obsessed with ideologies. It will not tell lies to deceive people either. Even better, AI will choose the best domestic and foreign policies for the nation. Moreover, AI politicians will never be corrupt nor rely on populism in order to win the election.

Of course, AI may turn out to be problematic too, as movies such as the “Matrix” or the “Terminator” series delineate and warn. A totalitarian country, too, may use AI to surveil and control the people. However, that is the worst-case scenario, as we should be aware. The best-case scenario is that AI may put an end to all sorts of political problems we now have. The one thing AI lacks is humanity. Living in a world where humanity is already seriously diminished, however, we cannot help but rely on AI. 

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.