AI’s dark side


By J. N. Halm

Artificial Intelligence. AI. Who would have thought? Ever since the publication of the paper that postulated the idea that machines, particularly computer systems, could exhibit some form of intelligence, the idea has refused to go away. That paper titled “Computer Machinery and Intelligence” by English mathematician and computer scientist, Alan Mathison Turing has been said to be the birth of the AI movement.

If AI was a baby then, we can confidently say that in those intervening decades, one can confidently say that AI is now a budding teenager. Although there is still more work to be done, it is clear that AI has truly come of age. Like a force that cannot be easily done away with, the influence of AI can be seen and felt in almost every facet of life. To say AI will soon become almost omnipresent will not be far from the truth.

Anyone who has made use of ChatGPT will appreciate the power of AI—and the number of users that logged on to the service within the first few months is enough proof that AI is not to be underestimated. The influence of ChatGPT in the area of education, with the many disruptions it has caused in that space is quite outstanding. Teachers are left scratching their heads as to how to deal with this new development.

AI is truly changing the way we live our lives. For instance, self-driving cars are built on AI technology. AI is also behind some of the most exciting gaming experiences that players have become used to. AI has also been used to turn homes into smart homes. Houses are now self-regulating their temperatures by turning on their thermostats all on their own.

In differentiating AIs, it is important to note that there is general AI which is the kind that is fed data. It analyses the data and comes out with deep findings. Then there is Generative AI. This is the type that goes beyond just analysing data. Generative AI can take that same data and then create something entirely new out of it. ChatGPT is one of such Generative AIs. What makes Generative AI such an intriguing prospect is the fact that it can operate almost independently of human intervention. Adapting to its environment while improving its operations makes AI even more exciting but also equally daunting for many.

Inevitably, AI has found usage in the world of business in general and in the area of services in particular. In its most common usage for customers, AI-powered chatbots are being used to provide customer support, answering queries and resolving issues quickly for customers. Some of these chatbots are even given human names just to make them a lot more personable to customers.

With AI has come additional terminologies, which can leave the uninitiated very confused. Machine learning, neural networks, big data, service robots, chatbots, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to mention just a few. As a matter of fact, it has been said that AI was going to lead the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. It is therefore little wonder that the whole world seems to be enamoured by the AI buzz.

But it seems not everyone is joining the AI craze, at least not yet. According to a study published in the January 2024 edition of Service Industries Journal, there is a dark side to AI. Aptly titled, “The Dark Side of Artificial Intelligence in Services,” the study argued that AI had negative effects on consumers, businesses, and society as a whole.   

It is true that some fear that a time will come when intelligent machines will free themselves from the control of humans. A lot of great minds have warned us that this possibility was always there. Alan Turing, whose publication is credited with the advent of AI, as well as the man accepted as the father of cybernetics, Norbert Weiner both believed that the time could come when intelligent robots could take over. Prof. Stephen Hawkings even went as far as to warn that if humanity did not prepare for and avoid the potential risks, AI could be “the worst event in the history of our civilization.”

If reports of more powerful digital minds being developed behind closed doors are anything to go by, then we might have cause to be worried. We have also seen these in enough movies to believe that this scenario is entirely possible. The experts warn that the days of I-Robot are not as far into the future as we might have been led to think.

However, that by no means reduces the clear and present dangers that are associated with AI, especially when it comes to service. The Service Industries Journal article, alluded to earlier, divides the dangers of AI into three categories. These three categories are AI Design, Customers, and the Service Encounter.

AI Design

Anthropomorphism which is the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects is one of the first challenges that intelligent machines present. By making robots look more human, customers might begin to develop some affinity for these machines. After a while though, when customers face the reality that machines can never be human, a different feeling develops. Customers might even begin to fear these smart machines.

Many AI designs used in serving customers tend to adopt feminine features, especially female names and voices. Fidelity Bank Ghana’s WhatsApp Banking Assistant is called Kukua. “Araba Hollard” is the name given to the insurance WhatsApp chatbot from Hollard Insurance. It has been argued that this “feminization” of AI, especially with such feminine designs, plays into gender stereotyping. The use of these feminine-sounding chatbots to serve customers tends to perpetuate the notion that women are only to be used in servile roles.


Beyond problems with the design of intelligent machines, there are also challenges to do with customers. One of the challenges customers will face with AI is the loss of privacy. As more and more intimate data on consumers gets uploaded onto machines, it becomes a lot easier to track the activities of people. Facial recognition which has become a staple of smarter shopping experiences could lead to some unforeseen challenges.

Beyond easily recognising the faces of people even in a crowd, AI is now enabling machines to even recognise people’s voices, mannerisms, and even the way people walk. A smart shopping experience, where the customer interacts with smart shopping assistants, means that every single item the customer buys could also be monitored by someone sitting somewhere. This is as dark as it can get.

Another of the darker sides of AI is the ease with which the lives of people can be controlled by unscrupulous individuals. For instance, a drive in an AI-powered self-driving car can turn into a different experience if someone remotely takes over the control of the vehicle. It would be a total nightmare. This is another of the dark scenarios that Hollywood movies have been warning us about for decades.

Closely related to the above is the issue of cybersecurity. Hackers and other individuals with dark intentions are now getting access to the most sophisticated tools for use in their nefarious activities. As AI is providing the good guys with the best of tools to help make living a lot more pleasurable, the same AI is also equipping the bad guys with more sophisticated tools to do more damage. That is the dark side of AI.

It has also been stated that the effectiveness of AI technology could lead to humans losing their independence and becoming more dependent on AI. This, it is asserted, could lead to the loss of human skills. It has also been argued that the more people use AI technology, the more they become socially isolated. Some AI tools have been known to even replace human connections, as people become more and more engrossed in the virtual world.

Another of the “accusations” that have been levelled against AI is that it will only promote laziness in humans. The argument is that as machines become smarter by the day, the tendency for people to offload even the most mundane of tasks to these intelligent computers will only grow. This could lead to a dumbing down of people as well as an atrophying of capabilities in people. Whereas a person using even the most basic of calculators will further check to see if the figures entered and the final computation are correct, this might not happen if the person believes the intelligent machine cannot get it wrong.

Beyond its potential to make us lazier, AI is also capable of making people more isolated socially. The signs of this are already all around us. Some people are having such captivating experiences on social media, thanks to AI, that these individuals are lost in their worlds. Then, there are very disturbing stories of individuals who are getting married to AI-powered chatbots and humanoid robots. There is even the story of men marrying smart AI-generated holograms in Japan. There is a woman in Spain who has also married another AI-generated hologram.

Service Encounter

Humans will always have something that not even the most intelligent machines can successfully copy—and that is the soul. Among the realities of a future with AI-powered machines are more and more emotionless customer encounters. Try as they may, robots cannot effectively display emotions. Even the small talk that will occasionally occur between customers and customer service professionals will be a thing of the past. What sort of conversation will you have with an AI machine when you ask it, “Where are you from?”

The truth of the matter is that these machines are here to stay. No amount of warning can prevent the revolution of smart machines. The revolution is already here. Clearly, there is a lot of good that smart machines will bring to our lives. However, as can be seen from the preceding paragraphs, we cannot pretend that all is rosy with AI, especially when it comes to serving customers. While being excited about the prospects, we must also be prepared to shine the light on AI’s dark side.

Leave a Reply