The term artificial intelligence provokes a variety of thoughts, emotions, and reactions from people. For some, it’s excitement and optimism. For others, it’s caution and fear.

Regardless of people’s hopes or concerns about the technology, the fact is artificial intelligence (AI) is here, it’s pervasive, and it’s poised to play a significant role in the future. But how will its role be defined? And what are the social and economic impacts of AI?

It’s a complex topic that’s up for debate in the technology community. As is the case with most technological innovations, AI has its pros and cons.


Artificial intelligence refers to an area of computer science that makes machines do things that would require intelligence if performed by a human. AI replicates human decisions and actions without human shortcomings, such as fatigue, emotion, or time limitations. It can perform tasks such as learning, seeing, talking, socializing, and problem-solving.

Though it has emerged in recent years as a disruptive technology, AI has been around for a while. Dartmouth professor John McCarthy coined the term in 1956 when he led a project that examined whether machines could use trial and error to develop formal reasoning.

Today, AI is part of everyday life. Most people—even those who are wary of it—use it regularly. A recent survey found that 63% of people didn’t know they were using AI. But anyone who uses a voice search on their phone, such as the iPhone’s Siri, is using an AI-driven application.

AI also suggests music selections through streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and automatically tags people in photos on Facebook through facial recognition. And an AI-powered algorithm conducts every Google search query.

Beyond consumer use, AI is used for tasks ranging from planning space missions, to self-driving vehicles to forecasting job growth. It’s already woven into the fabric of society.


While most people are already using AI in some form, there are concerns about how much the technology will evolve. Currently, we have narrow or weak AI, which performs narrow tasks. The future may produce general or strong AI, which would outperform humans in almost all cognitive tasks.

The primary concern with AI is the future of jobs. Technology has replaced many jobs over the years, and AI is on the cusp of doing the same. Goldman Sachs is in the process of automating its currency trading, which will reduce the need for some traders. Uber acquired autonomous-driving truck startup Otto, a technology that research firm McKinsey predicts could put a third of truck drivers out of work in the next 10 years.

Despite the fear of machines taking all the jobs, we’re still a long way off from that reality. A recent McKinsey report said less than 5% of jobs can be fully automated by current technology. However, about 60% of jobs can be partially automated by current technology.

Still, technology can also create jobs. One-third of new jobs created in the U.S. the past 25 years did not exist previously, and much of that was because of technology.


Despite concerns, the technology is impacting lives, not just adding conveniences or growing business. In fact, there are several ways AI is improving society:

  • Meta, a science search engine recently purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic organization, indexes scientific research and uses AI to find the most relevant and trustworthy information. This tool benefits scientists, universities, and foundations that must shift through tons of research to make decisions and allocate resources.
  • AI has helped detect autism in babies as young as six months old. Most autistic babies are diagnosed at 24 months. However, a new algorithm processes MRI data from babies between 6 and 12 months old and can tell if the cortical surface area is growing too fast, which is a sign of autism.
  • Facebook is beginning to use AI to identify users who may be at risk for suicide. The social network used to rely on other users to notify them of people at risk, but now the technology recognizes warning signs.
  • Japanese doctors used IBM’s Watson, an AI-powered computer system, to diagnose a rare type of leukemia and identify a life-saving therapy for a patient. The computer analyzed millions of oncology papers and leukemia data to help doctors discover the problem.

AI has its positives and negatives, but the technology is not only making life easier, it’s making processes more efficient and effective. The future is still unclear, but artificial intelligence is pushing us ahead faster and faster.