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35 (130) 2018
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Technology & Future

How to humanise technology without dehumanising society?

By Iwona Dryś, data solutions business manager, Future Processing
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is driving the development of a knowledge-based and data-driven economy.

If we add human creativity on top of AI’s capabilities, we can tap into this opportunity for growth in ways that we've not yet dreamt of. Humanising AI algorithms with a set of features that give the impression of human thought represents the Holy Grail of tech revolution. However, bearing in mind the exponential growth of technology –  every 12 to 18 months computers double their power – the effects that a humanised AI will bring about on society cannot be anticipated today, causing dilemmas and doubts of a moral, ethical and legal nature.

In this piece we will try to draw your attention to those issues that businesses should focus on as the AI revolution unfolds in front of our eyes.

In search of answers

In the future, we’d all love to be surrounded by technology that changes the world for the better. But how can we teach AI to act in an ethical way? How do we design a moral algorithm, if we can’t agree on what constitutes a moral human being? How can we introduce feelings to AI, if AI is not capable of doing so? How can we define such critical issues like morality or ethics in a way that the computer can process? Answers to these questions are yet to be found.

The human-tech relationship is a strange one. Is it personal, or is it just instrumental? Is it a usership, or a partnership? Is it individual, or rather common and shared? Some voices argue, that it is a relationship based on power, but it's becoming harder to establish who is really in charge of whom. Especially, when on the one hand, technology is constantly redefining itself due to the rapid growth in its capabilities, and on the other – moral and ethical challenges related to humanising technology are fuelled by dystopian visions of a Matrix-like future where mankind is no longer in charge.

This results in some business leaders backing away from the tech race, as they find it hard to follow or even feel scared of the possible consequences. At the same time, it looks like our legislators and regulators are not even trying to take part in the race, which exacerbates the feeling among many  people that “we’re not ready for this”.

The new reality

The fact that AI will soon be able to outstrip mankind has been said for a long time. Experts still argue on the exact moment of singularity (when a runaway reaction of self-improvement cycles, each one happening ever faster, leads to an intelligence explosion resulting in a superintelligence surpassing all human intelligence) – this point could be just a few decades away, according to some. The consequences for civilization are existential.

There are many visions of the future, and most of them share some vital parts. Many agree that many jobs will remain in human hands, although the way they are performed will change. Those whose jobs are first in line to be taken over by AI are telemarketers, truck drivers, loans officers, cashiers, legal assistants, taxi drivers or fast-food chefs. Translators will no longer be needed by the middle of the next decade, and by the middle of the century, robots will be capable of writing novels and will cooperate with doctors better than the most experienced surgeons.

AI is the workforce of the future; there's no doubt about this. Employees should consider this as an opportunity, rather than a threat. For them, it means the end of dull, repetitive mundane work that they don't like. Yet this shift creates a need of for serious social debate that must not be pushed aside. Re-skilling and adapting to a new work reality can be the only way to ensure successive functioning in the new, technological ecosystem in which the relationship between employee and employer is radically altered.

Our point of view will evolve over time. Right now, the first generation of humans who don't remember the world before the internet are starting to enter the labour market. These digital natives, exposed to technology from infancy, see the future differently to those whose careers were disrupted by earlier waves of technology. The generation of humans being born right now won't know a world without AI. They will surely be more likely to understand and accept the risks and  opportunities related to the broad invitation of algorithms into our everyday life. A possible polarisation of society (digital natives vs digital immigrants) only pours salt on the wounds of those who stand against the tech change. How to overcome this gap?

The way to go

According to Dr Vyacheslav Polonski of Oxford University, there are some adequate remedies we can prescribe to streamline the process of establishing human relationship with thoughtful AI.

Firstly, we shall focus on defining what is ethical – and this definition should be put in parameters computers can understand. But this won’t happen until societies can agree among themselves on what ethics actually is. Explicitly.

Secondly, we must teach AI algorithms morality by collecting enough data to appropriately train them. Adequate data quality and quantity is key for the AI to pick up the idea behind each conception, and morality is not an exception here.

Finally, we should put emphasis on making AI systems as transparent as possible. The challenge is that neural networks are too complex for us to understand the science beneath them. So instead of focusing on the technical side, we should rather put a spotlight on what rules the algorithms are trained with, and on the outcomes AI achieves in consequence. This will help the unconvinced to understand the way AI goes, bringing them closer to the new reality.

As you can see, there is much homework to be done, and the responsibility for the future lies solely upon our shoulders. The cost of inaction can be too high to bear, especially with AI only gaining momentum.

The price of innovation

Some business leaders use technology to differentiate their companies, so that they rise above the mediocrity of their competitors. Others fear technology, wishing to retain the human touch as a competitive feature.  And consumers – some embrace the novelty, while others fear becoming digital slaves, addicted to tech gadgets they simply neither need nor want.

The future we will face is certainly with technology, not without technology. And it will happen anyhow, whether we like it or not. But will it also be a future with humanity? The tech revolution should be stirring our human emotions, but as long as these emotions are constructive, there is no need to be concerned. Provided that human-tech relationship is based on interdependency, we should be looking forward to the opportunities the AI revolution creates. Moreover, we shall seek how to benefit from the changes that are inevitably coming.

Warren Buffett said: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Sometimes the price of innovation can be hard to understand, but the values it provides can be very promising. AI can and should be used to harness positive results and overcome biases in the fields of healthcare, safety or smart cities. As a technology company we aim to make a positive impact and contribution to our human lives. Give us a shout, we'll happily prove it!

You can contact me on idrys@future-processing.com or call +48 32 438 44 34

Future Processing

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