How to live with Artificial Intelligence but remain human

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming part of our daily life. Humanity is transitioning into the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, where advanced technologies are becoming embedded in society or even the human body, through robotics, quantum computing, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles to name a few. We thought we had reached the peak when we invented personal computers in the 1980s, but the best is yet to come.

And the transition is happening fast. Yet, the masses are largely unaware of how AI is shaping their daily life. That’s, perhaps, because we associate AI with super robots and killing machines, influenced by futuristic, sci-fi movies. However, AI is more (and sometimes simpler) than that. Just reflect for a moment on how AI contributes to facilitate some of the simplest tasks we perform every day.

We wake up in smart houses, where AI systems learn our behaviour and adjust the settings (temperature, light colours and intensity) to make our experience as frictionless as possible, and minimise our environmental footprint. We eat cereals (or ice-cream!) for breakfast, which have been marketed to us through AI systems which match products to our behaviour and preferences. Many of us navigate the internet on a daily basis, where AI systems analyse our “clicks” and time spent on webpages, understand our interests and serve us ads which nudge us to buy products or services. Many of us listen to music while we work, on Spotify, which, again, uses AI technologies to introduce us to artists and songs that match our interests. During the day we travel around using Uber, where AI matches pricing and car types to our request; or we navigate from point A to B on Google Maps, where AI technology give us real-time traffic data. We stop at the gym on our way home, and we record our performance on smart fitness apps, which analyse workouts, nutrition and sleep data, and give us suggestions to improve our lifestyle. We get home in the evening; we ask Alexa to play our favourite music, while we order dinner on Deliveroo, whose algorithm evaluates the most efficient way of distributing orders based on the location of the restaurant, driver and customer. Every once in a while, we go on holiday, on airplanes where pilots spend 7 minutes manually driving the plane, with much of the rest being done by AI technology.

Sound familiar? These are just a few examples of how AI systems already contribute to our lives.

If AI is beginning to take hold, so are the concerns about the future.

Experts of the like of Stephen Hawking warned AI would outperform humans and end mankind. Bill Gates stated that AI would lead to job losses and a scary, unpredictable future. Elon Musk called it the biggest existential threat to human civilisation and is on a mission to save humanity from the apocalypse generated by AI.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the trend towards educating the masses on AI. For example, in an attempt to demystify AI and make it accessible to anyone around the world, the University of Helsinki has developed a free, online course, which promises to explain AI systems with no complicated maths or programming. Over 250 companies have pledged to participate in the country’s “AI challenge”, which aims to train at least 1% of Finland’s population in AI. Google has launched PAIR – the People and AI Research Initiative, which aims to facilitate people’s understanding of artificial intelligence, and releases free tools and resources, to further our understanding and use of technologies.

The resources to learn how to use AI are there, but what about…us? How do we remain human in a world awash with human-like machines? The future is unpredictable. Some suggest that if we build AI systems with users in mind from the ground up, and we aim to use them ethically, our co-existence will be peaceful.

To me, the issue is not merely how we live with them and prevent them from stealing our jobs. General intelligence and moral reasoning are what make us humans. If we give them to machines, we will lose our uniqueness and exceptionality. To avoid ending up in a world where we fear our creations, we quickly need to establish clear boundaries that carefully consider how we harness the power of AI while minimising the threats.

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