UPPER ST. CLAIR – When many of us think about artificial intelligence, what can instantly cross our minds are visions of robots run amok, Big Brother-style surveillance and whole classifications of jobs being ruthlessly tossed into history’s dustbin.
Entrepreneur and technology innovator Kevin Surace reassured a Town Hall South audience Tuesday morning that, yes, artificial intelligence will bring changes to our world and how we work, but it will make our world better, not plunge us into a dystopia.
“We’re going to be excited,” Surace said. He added that some fears about artificial intelligence have stemmed from our lack of understanding of how it works.
An energetic entrepreneur who has been awarded 93 patents, Surace has been a champion of clean technology, created drywall that is soundproof, and one company he co-founded replaced all the windows in the Empire State Building with more energy-efficient versions that saved the structure’s owners more than $400,000. A gregarious speaker who paced the stage at Upper St. Clair High School during his talk, Surace has also been involved in the arts as a producer, conductor, percussionist and artistic director of a theater company.
“I don’t want to invent anything,” the 60-year-old Surace explained. “But sometimes I wake up and then there’s a problem to be solved.”
In the face of fears about artificial intelligence, Surace pointed out that automation has been happening for more than 60 years – General Motors introduced the first robot on an assembly line in 1961, and ATM machines were first brought to the marketplace in 1969. There were predictions in each case of apocalyptic job losses, but they did not materialize, Surace argued. He did suggest, though, that industries will undoubtedly be turned upside down as artificial intelligence infiltrates more parts of our lives. He suggested, for instance, that driverless vehicles would have a negative impact on driver’s education companies, fast food, car washes and oil-changing establishments. But it would be a boon to interior design companies, as the owners of driverless vehicles sought to personalize their cars.
Artificial intelligence will make its mark on areas as diverse as agriculture, health care and law, Surace said.
And, in Surace’s estimation, it won’t leave flesh-and-blood human beings on the sidelines. Instead, as more repetitive or monotonous jobs are handled by artificial intelligence, it will leave us “better off, doing more interesting things,” he said.
Surace was originally booked to speak to a Town Hall South audience in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to a long postponement of his appearance. The next speaker scheduled in Town Hall South’s 2022-23 series is Leon Logothetis, a motivational speaker and philanthropist. He will be at Upper St. Clair High School Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 10 a.m. Additional information is available at townhallsouth.org.