The End of Days, or Just the Beginning? Current AI use

13 March 2024
By Fenchurch Law

It’s seemingly the only thing anyone can talk about. It is hard to go to any conference, panel discussion or networking event without someone paying it lip service. And most cyber articles, opinion pieces or business plans contain some nebulous reference to it. Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is certainly the flavour of the month. But what it is, how is it used and what does it mean for us all? This article will look at the development of AI and hopefully alleviate concerns by demonstrating how it has been part of our everyday lives for some time.

Part of the problem is that most definitions of AI are either too complicated or too broad. One with which most people work is something along the lines of “AI is a computer’s ability to perform the cognitive functions or abilities that we usually associate with the human mind”. This tends to make people think of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the more recent example of ChatGPT. But AI elements are far more ingrained in our lives than science fiction or Large Language Models. Regardless of how we view AI, it is very much present in our everyday world; whether in the personal space of helping to enable safer online payments, or travelling to work through our smartphones, to offering greater efficiency for businesses and their clients through automation and autonomy.  

Although the history of AI can be traced back to 1950 – for example, Alan Turing’s paper entitled ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ [1] – for present purposes it makes sense to start in the late 1970s. The 1950s to mid-1970s were a time of great advancement for AI but (like ordinary computers) they had less impact on everyday lives. The emergence of arcade games in the late 1970s can be viewed as perhaps the earliest widespread societal engagement with AI. Games like Pong, Space Invaders and Pacman may not be what spring to mind when we think of AI, but the way in which the computer responded in real time to the player’s actions can certainly be considered as artificially intelligent gameplay. Similarly, the 1997 defeat of Gary Kasparov, chess world champion, by IBM’s ‘Deep Blue’ AI system has been viewed as a milestone in the history of AI. At the time, there was widespread unease that a computer had defeated one of humanity’s great intellectual champions.

In the grand scheme of things, however, AI in the 20th century was far more widespread in popular culture than in everyday life. After 2001: A Space Odyssey, films like Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, The Terminator, RoboCop and The Matrix had great impact in shaping society’s (mis)understanding about AI. The dystopian sci-fi genre of cinema has perhaps been the single biggest contributor to the concern and fear around the technology. Most of the stories in these films centre around the concept of computers ‘taking over’ and subduing humanity. This unhelpfully incepted ideas about the scope and purpose of AI in the popular conscience, despite the fact that the grand narratives were entirely fictitious.

In reality, AI deployment is more nuanced, precise and limited. While the potential of the technology is astounding, the current everyday uses of AI are surprisingly narrow (meaning task-specific) albeit certainly widespread. If you unlock your smartphone with facial recognition, you use AI several times a day. If you have predictive text enabled on texts or emails, you use AI whenever you are drafting. When you use maps on your phone to navigate a car or public transport journey, the real time traffic and transport updates are analysed and evaluated by AI to assess the swiftest route. If you call a service provider and speak to an automated voice – that’s AI. If you engage with a customer chatbot – that’s AI too. If you have social media and engage with suggested posts/videos, the AI algorithms that show the content have prioritised posts based on previous ‘likes’, your location, wider online activity and user demographic. Similarly, if you use Spotify or Apple Music, AI assesses your music taste and playlists and creates a track list in a similar vein.

In business, if your company does not use AI, it is almost certain that one of your service providers does. For example, while London-based law firms are unlikely to develop their own AI software, it is highly likely that their disclosure providers use AI in document review and processing. And in healthcare, it is highly likely your local hospital is using AI, given that NHS Trusts use AI to analyse X-ray images to support radiologists make assessments. AI is also used to assist clinicians with interpreting brain scans. Whenever you fly on a plane, air traffic control systems log your flight data and use it to feed AI systems that aid efficiency in air traffic management. And in the military, AI has been used in autonomous ground vehicles and unmanned drones and it assists in the prevention of cyber warfare. Even the food you eat may have been produced with the assistance of  AI, given that sophisticated farms use AI and drones to analyse soil health, crop health and yield potential, thereby applying fertilisers and water more precisely – which optimises resource use and minimises environmental impact. In short, AI has permeated consumer life, healthcare, travel, defence and agriculture in ways that may not have been realised by the man on the Clapham omnibus but are highly unlikely to be reversed.

So AI is here to stay. But it is not omnipotent, and it is not yet omnipresent. It’s been around for far longer than ChatGPT although has had more targeted deployment than people tend to think. And you’re likely using it every day. While we can’t say for sure how the technology will develop, it’s not a future discussion: it’s already happening. AI has almost certainly improved efficiency and ease in your life and hasn’t locked the pod bay doors just yet.

This is the first in a series of articles about AI by Dru Corfield and Dr Joanne Cracknell.

Dru Corfield is an Associate at Fenchurch Law and inaugural committee member of the City of London Law Society’s AI Committee. Fenchurch Law was the first law firm in the UK to focus exclusively on representing policyholders in coverage disputes with their insurers and is top-ranked by both Legal 500 and Chambers.

Dr Joanne Cracknell is a Director in the Legal Services PI Team, Global FINEX, WTW. E: W:

WTW (Willis Towers Watson) is a global insurance broker, multidisciplinary consultancy, and risk advisor with a mission to empower companies amidst rapid change

[1] Source: Turing, Alan M. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind 59 (October): 433-60.