RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been around since the mid-20th century, but over the past couple of months, it has transformed the world.

We are now entering a new era of technology that has many people uneasy. A recent poll found that six in 10 Americans view AI as a threat to human civilization. Tech experts are also sounding the alarm.

These generative AI applications go by all sorts of different names, like ChatGPT or DALL-E. But the bottom line is that AI is here — and companies and governments are struggling to keep up.

OpenAI Chief Executive Sam Altman testified before Congress saying, “My worst fears are that we cause significant… harm to the world.”

Here in Richmond, artificial intelligence is so integrated into Empower AI’s workflow, it’s found right in the company’s name.

Empower AI is a government contractor. Vice President of Product Solutions Mariya Karimova says the company helps federal agencies with a wide range of duties, from routine office jobs like verifying licenses to vital tasks like military missions or saving lives.

“Maybe evaluate a patient file or even try to identify cancer in their X-ray,” Karimova explained of the work Empower AI does.

Empower AI says it’s been able to replace some monotonous jobs with AI. Those workers have been reassigned to more fulfilling work so tasks are completed more efficiently and quickly. The company points out no jobs have been lost, instead, AI is used as a supplement.

“[Our employees] are able to do things faster, be able to do things more accurately,” said Karimova. “AI is here to supplement what our people do, not to replace them.”

However, that doesn’t mean the company leaves AI entirely on its own. Humans monitor everything.

“If you don’t explain very well what your AI is supposed to do, it’s very easy to have AI used in an inappropriate way,” Karimova said.

Dr. Sylvester Johnson is the assistant vice provost for public interest technology at Virginia Tech. He’s also the founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities. Johnson sees some potential issues with AI as well.

“There are municipalities that use AI to decide how long people serve sentences,” Johnson described. “Research has found that those AI systems are actually creating or perpetuating systems of class and racial discrimination.”

Johnson says generative AI is trained on incredible amounts of data, just like what we’d find on the internet — the good and the bad.

“I think that the speed at which the innovation has occurred has clearly outpaced our ability to manage it,” Johnson said.

Johnson suggests AI-generated content should be labeled and more efforts should be made to invest in managing AI.

Karimova is in favor of the government regulating AI but she encourages people not to be afraid.

“AI is a great helper to a human. It is not going to replace human role anytime soon and it is very important to keep a human in the loop — both in working with AI solutions but also in developing AI solutions,” she said.

Both experts recommend that as we enter this whole new world of technology, we should tread carefully.