From the Age of the Internet to the Age of AI

8 Jul 2024

The age of the Internet began in earnest in April 1993 when it was released into the public domain. Since then, it has grown to become an all-pervading force in our lives, impacting the way we communicate, carry out business and banking transactions, entertain ourselves, spend our leisure time, and even order our food and groceries. All of this was inconceivable not all that long ago, as would be well remembered by the Boomers, Generation X, and even the early Millennials. Though many of them view the pre-digital era that existed till the very early Nineties with rose-tinted nostalgia, one can generally agree that the World Wide Web has done far more good than bad.

That the Internet changed life as mankind knew it for thousands of years in a fundamental manner is a fact. It ushered in the digital revolution, which is possibly even more path-breaking in its impact on mankind than the harnessing of fire and the invention of the wheel. We are, in fact, in the throes of a digital revolution that has only about begun. If things weren't interesting enough for us, even as we see our lives transform at a breakneck speed thanks to the changes ushered in by the entry of the Internet into our lives, we need to brace ourselves for another epochal transformation caused by the advent of AI or Artificial Intelligence technology.

Where AI is different from the technologies preceding it is in the fact that it is already autonomous of human oversight to some extent in its decision-making and may one day become fully independent, which has led to alarm among many, who feat that its large-scale adoption might lead to a dystopian nightmare straight out of an HG Wells sci-fi thriller. People fear that AI could render everybody from writers and surgeons to lawyers and teachers redundant, leading to an existential crisis on an epic scale.

For all the fear-mongering around AI, which admittedly appears justified even to the brightest of human minds, many of whom have expressed their concerns about its dangers, it does offer us myriad benefits across several very practical applications. From preventing fraud and analyzing risks in the investment sector to carrying out complex scientific research by perusing complex data and from automating repetitive mundane tasks to transforming healthcare with its varied abilities, including interpreting data to help identify diseases and assisting in drug development, AI can be of immense service to mankind.

AI is still essentially at a very nascent stage and many years away from a time where it is unilaterally and independently able to make major life-and-death decisions of its own volition. That is not to say that it never may, which is why governments, lawmakers, technologists, scientists and philosophers must utilise the time we have to regulate the technology and decide on the ethical framework within which it must be deployed.

That the AI age has dawned upon us is a fact, but whether it will turn out to be all pervasive and more is something that we don't yet have the answer to. The Dot Com bubble, for instance, had nearly sunk the Internet revolution until the proponents of the technology proved its usefulness in many other ways. Who knows when the current rash of AI startups pitching a gazillion AI products might go belly up, making people wary of the technology to the extent that they may want to dump it? Alternatively, it may see its ups and downs and finally become the new normal in a much better-regulated and rationalized manner. In any case, we are in for an exciting time ahead.