AI Futures

Whenever a new phenomenon is introduced into human society, the discourse often revolves around a familiar dichotomy between good and evil; yin and yang; truth and deceit; creation and destruction.

Naturally, there’s a tendency to present new information in a way that is clear, concise and easy to digest, but such approaches often lead to discussions that are more polarised than they are thought-provoking. Recent discussions surrounding the rise of Artificial Intelligence have been no different. Interpreting coverage of AI at face value, it would appear that the technology is either going to maximise our capacity to live in ways we’ve never imagined, or destroy mankind in its entirety. If you ever wanted an example of a schismatic discussion, look no further.

Whether a critic or a proponent of AI, the one thing we can agree on is that the technology is an inevitability within our lifetimes, and will have a profound impact upon how human society operates. Even in the time that has passed since the term was first coined in the middle of the twentieth century, AI has become a vastly more complex issue than its term even denotes, and it’s likely it will still evolve into something scarcely comparable to what we first envisioned. In our endeavours to use digital technology to increase efficiency and improve our quality of life, we have opened a Pandora’s Box, creating a new world where magic and malevolence can co-exist, at times in harmony, at others in fierce opposition.

This conversation has also exploded a number of axioms relating to ethics, morality, the meaning of intelligence, knowledge, and truth into the development of AI. Discussions around technology and machines have evolved into deeper inquiries about what it is to be human, or what defines humanity itself. In this light, perhaps AI should be considered the same way utilitarians ask the question, “If you could go back in time and kill the baby Hitler, would you?” In our efforts to stem the current rise of technology, are we simply delaying the inevitable and risking giving birth to something even more all-encompassing further down the line?

“THEN SURELY WE MUST BE PREPARED TO CONFRONT OUR OWN FLAWS AND IMPERFECTIONS; OUR OWN REALITIES.”

If we accept that, as the makers of AI, we are creating future beings in our own image – both by programming from scratch and by being its main source of information once it comes into being and begins learning – then surely we must be prepared to confront our own flaws and imperfections; our own realities.

Viewed from this angle, it seems the biggest threat posed to us by AI is its potential to provide a definitive answer to what we are as a species. Ultimately, AI will come to embody a holistic incarnation of all human knowledge and experience – a collective child to whom we all have responsibility, but to whom we are also unfathomably inferior, at least intellectually. It might be an appealing proposition to have the chance to play God, but like God, we might not be ready for the creation we unleash upon the universe.

PERHAPS OUR FOCUS SHOULD BE LESS ON HOW AI MIGHT EVOLVE TO EVENTUALLY KNOW EVERYTHING, AND MORE ON HOW AI MIGHT EMPOWER US TO BETTER KNOW OURSELVES.

With this in mind, we pose the question: What can we do to ensure that AI is nurtured and cared for as we would a child, rather than as a raw piece of technology, as it emerges in the years to come? Though we might not be able to program its DNA, perhaps we might attempt to make it as well-versed in the complex lexicon of human emotion, feeling, intuition and irrationality, as it will be in cold, hard, irrefutable facts. Perhaps our focus should be less on how AI might evolve to eventually know everything, and more on how AI might empower us to better know ourselves.

Nietzsche once said that as you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. As digital society grows and we become surrounded by artificial intelligence and automation, we must be careful that we do not sink into its walls in the process.

Come back over the next few days to see responses from a variety of industry leaders in the field of AI. 

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