10 minutes read.
Lately the terms Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) seem to be omnipresent. Media warns about robots taking over the world, jobs are being cut, new technical gadgets are helping us in daily life and many companies and startups have specialized in solving technical issues that come along with digitalization. Are AI and ML a threat to humankind or rather an opportunity to make our lives and work more efficient and less prone to mistakes?
One thing we know for sure, and we experienced in the past, the development of technology is going to change our future society and business dramatically, and people will have to adapt to the new ways of living and working.
As AI professionals, we at Createsi strongly believe that it is necessary to discuss and understand concerns of people. We need to engage in a dialog which will help in emphasizing positive aspects and creating the environment to help people deal with inevitable changes. As the future lies in the hands of the younger generations, we organized a workshop in order to find out about the current feelings and thoughts regarding the influence of AI in business and society. We grabbed coffee and beer and sat down with a bunch of students, young entrepreneurs and professionals to discuss their views, ideas and opinions, during a very lively two-hour-discussion. An inspiring setting of the Zurich Impact Hub was a perfect place for such an event. In this blog post we present some of the most interesting themes that emerged during our workshop.
Understanding of AI
Terms connected to AI are often misused and utilized inflationary, which creates a hollow hype around the topic and technology possibilities. It is important for individuals as well as companies to understand to what extent algorithms can “learn” and where are the boundaries of the current technology. Often people connect the term AI to algorithms that start developing autonomously, without human intervention, which creates the image of Terminator-like behavior, leading to people being insecure and anxious. This perception comes to the large extent due to such portrayal of AI in the science fiction literature and the movie industry. One important task is to demystify AI technology and present what it actually is, including its current limitations, challenges and future development possibilities.
Human versus Machine
Significant amount of discussion was devoted to identifying aspects of human intelligence that machines will never be able to reproduce. What is perceived by workshop participants as the most significant such aspect is the machine’s inability to express genuine feelings and real empathy. This was identified as the key area where people have and will continue to have advantage to the machines – person to person interaction. It is true that machines can do some very narrow and specific tasks better than people, especially if these tasks involve dealing with a large set of information. However, machines can’t show intelligent behavior in a random setting or situation, at least not now and in the foreseeable future. Technology is still not that far.
But, what if technology develops as far as machines starting to show feelings, creativity as well as compassionate behavior? Such scenarios are often described in the science fiction literature and movies, and modern AI research goes in that direction of creating the generic intelligence. This would not only influence the manual labor, which is taken over by machines, but also deep intellectual and creative activities. These scenarios, understandably, sound horrifying. Moreover, there was a question of the benefits such development would bring to the society. Do we want to live in the Blade Runner like society, where people could start interacting with robots without knowing that they are dealing with machines? Do we want to be nursed and taken care of by a robot? Is it necessary for machines to take over these functions? These questions start to touch the moral aspect of AI development. Should AI research really proceed in the direction of AI completely mimicking human behavior?
With this discussion we drifted a bit in the far future and reflected about some initiatives, like the Montreal Declaration of Responsible AI Development, which aims at “steering the development of AI to support the common good, and guide social change by making recommendations with a strong democratic legitimacy.”
Social, economic and legal change
In a world where manual labor, intellectual work and social care are taken over by machines, humankind will have to redefine its value, which is going to trigger a shift one could call a fundamental social and human disruption. What will be the value we provide? The whole concept of personal contribution and value provided through employment, which underpins the modern economy, will have to be redefined. At present there are already algorithms that are helping us take better decisions in, for example, what cancer therapy could work best for certain patients or classification of emails as spam. These two examples are differing in severity of the decision’s consequences. If something goes wrong, we need someone who is going to take over the responsibility. Therefore, strategic questions and more complex cases with very singular circumstances might not be fully taken over by machines any time soon. In addition to that, people are very emotionally driven beings and will still feel the urge to rely on a gut feeling when taking decisions, especially since there is an inherent problem in explaining how modern AI algorithms made a certain proposal and why.
If we neglect these topics for a moment and imagine a society where human labor is fully being exchanged for AI, new legal and social challenges emerge. For example, a company implementing a robot answering to customer complaints over the phone, without them knowing, might be accused of deceiving customers. Modern AI voice assistants are becoming so sophisticated that it is genuinely difficult to know if one talks with a human or a machine over the phone. So, this raises a number of legal and ethical concerns. It should probably be defined very precisely in which cases people have to be informed that they are interacting with a robot, and not with a human sitting on the other side of the phone connection. If we take this a step further and think of a company that has cut all jobs and replaced them completely with machines, we end up in a socioeconomic challenge for the current legal and economical systems. The company is running business without employees and therefore without social costs which are nowadays associated with salaries. New laws will obviously have to be implemented to regulate such cases. This may lead to introduction of robot taxation. As AI and ML proceed, we will obviously have to simultaneously develop new solutions from a legal, social and ethical perspectives to adjust our societies to change.
Science fiction or reality?
We all love science fiction movies, don’t we? There is something very fascinating in watching human beings merging with machines, overcoming their biological limits and gaining new power over body and mind. Some influential technologists of today think that this will be the only way humanity can compete with the machines.
To a certain extent this is already happening. Scientists are already engineering sophisticated replacement body parts and protheses for people with disabilities, injuries or amputations to function normally again, or even better than a fully abled person. Why not creating extra fast legs or especially good lenses, where one could see microscopical little things or what is going on behind their back? Why not plant a chip into our brain that connects us to a sort of an AI system in a cloud, enabling almost infinite knowledge that can be downloaded directly into our brains from the Internet?
Today, some of us are wearing a smart watch constantly collecting data of our heart rate, number of steps, sleeping rhythm, menstrual cycle etc. We gain control over our body functions and can behave more efficiently. Still, we can very clearly separate such a machine from human, as we can just take off the watch and no data will be gathered anymore. Maybe someday the separation won’t be that simple anymore and future generations will live to see true cyborgs? Looking back into history, one could argue that it is the course of things, as people are naturally driven to create various tools that make them perform better and more efficiently. Development of hybrids between human and machines could be a next step in human evolution.
Clearly, if AI and ML are to be a major part of our technological future, we will have to consider various moral, legal, social and ethical aspects. In general, there is still not enough knowledge in the broader public about the current state of AI, and many people still fear the unknown depths of technology, additionally fueled by the hype and sensationalistic media reporting. It is therefore of vital importance to understand what is possible with AI and, moreover, what onerous problems can be solved with the help of it. Therefore, our team in Createsi is very much aiming to show as many use cases and background information as possible in order to alleviate insecurities and negative emotions towards where our technology is evolving. It is important to tackle the fear, moral and ethical questions by communicating opportunities and threats very transparently and by helping people understand possibilities and adapt to changes.
At the end, we would like to emphasize that humanity is not facing a totally uncertain and unknown future in the light of the latest technology developments. Human society does have the experience with disruptive technologies from the past and we can learn from that experience. Inventions of the steam machine, electricity, a car, a computer, etc. all triggered the debate about the consequences for the human society. Fortunately, we were able to overcome fears and embrace the technology advance leading us to arguably the most prosperous period in the human history. There are challenges and serious treats ahead, but we should not lose hope in the humanities ability to move forward.