Of all the emerging technologies that are set to impact the way we work and the way we live, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, without doubt, the most challenging. Coupled with Machine Learning (ML), AI will not only make objects smarter or allow machines to recognize patterns and interpret data, it has the potential to change the face of the earth. Some see AI as a blessing, many others focus on the threat it poses to human dominance over machines.
When talking about AI and smart machines, examples spring to mind of a computer beating the world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997, Google Assistant helping us in our day to day tasks, or – more recently – an AI program beating the world’s best professional poker players because it made better use of information that poker players do not share with each other. But the effects of AI will go much deeper. Just imagine what tasks computers can take over from us when they can be programmed to think like us, and how much faster they can be at performing repetitive tasks. What machines are already doing on the production line, may well happen in our offices too.
Let AI Do the Work for Us
Some recent surveys have shown that business leaders are divided over what the human-machine partnership will bring in terms of productivity. Research conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Dell Technologies shows that 82 per cent of business executives expect their employees and machines to work as ‘integrated teams’ within the next few years. Yet only 49% believe that employees will be more productive as more tasks get automated. And only 42% think we will have more job satisfaction by offloading tasks that we don’t want to do to intelligent machines. Employees too have their doubts, as research from The Workforce Institute reveals: although 64 per cent would welcome AI if it simplified or automated time-consuming internal processes or helped balance their workload, six out of ten employees find their employers are not very transparent about what AI will mean to the way they do their jobs – if they will still have them, that is, after this next automation wave.
We are only in the first chapters of the book that we are writing for our future, but already, the AI/ML is having a profound influence on all aspects of human life, and we need to ensure that AI is not writing the ending for us. Consider just these examples:
- In healthcare, deep learning systems can read images and diagnose pneumonia as accurately as radiologists.
- At CES in Las Vegas, AT&T announced that it’s testing a new ‘structure monitoring solution’, a system to help cities and transportation companies monitor the stability of bridges, alerting them if their stability is compromised.
- At Georgia Tech, a chatbot is mailing assignments and answering questions from students.
- Intelligent systems are helping HR departments analyze employee sentiment in real time, thus helping reduce employee attrition.
The list of applications of AI is endless and you will find examples like these in any industry. The big question that everyone is asking is whether AI will help us, or if AI systems will replace human beings in the workplace, making us completely redundant. The answer to this million dollar question is not so simple. On the one hand, it is clear that a number of jobs are on the line. Just think of truck drivers losing their job if we will get convoys of driverless trucks on the road, call center operators being replaced by conversational AI systems, or financial analysts getting the boot from robo-advisors.
Humans in the Loop
On the other hand, AI will also create new jobs. If you have learning systems, someone will need to supervise those learning efforts, programmers will have to find the right algorithms and embed them in systems, and so on. In fact, some analysts see AI as what is called ‘an invention that makes inventions’, creating endless new possibilities. AI will definitely have a direct impact, but it will also spur on new developments that will, in turn, create new applications and new jobs. Enough new jobs for Gartner’s Peter Sondergaard to claim – during last year’s Gartner IT Symposium – that AI will be a net job contributor from 2020 onwards, eliminating 1.8 million jobs while creating 2.3 million new ones.
I also tend to think AI will bring more benefits than troubles and I strongly believe that humans will be augmented by AI rather than replaced. We need to consider that self-taught AI has trouble with the real world. Emotions are key, multiple options and complex real life situations hard to handle for AI. As Kevin Kelly, author of The Inevitable, says: “the chief benefit of AI is that it does NOT think like humans. We’re going to invent many new types of thinking that don’t exist biologically and that are not like human thinking. Therefore, this type of intelligence does not replace human thinking, but augments it.” In fact, AI cannot do without human intervention and there will always be ‘humans in the loop’ as AI-specialist J.J. Kardwell comments: “humans should be focused on teaching machines so that machines can focus on performing jobs that are too big for humans to process.” According to this school of thinking, humans and robots working in harmony will yield the best results.
For Marvin Minsky, what counts in humans, is our mind, our spirit, the brain being a machine like any other, besides the fact that modeling the plasticity and dynamism of the brain is not easy. We have a “mechanistic” vision of the Human, but, like Jean-François Mattei highlights, the fact is that the brain is first of all a social and cultural organ, which adapts to human relations and with our environment, for a fine and adapted decision, linked to our conscience, to our freedom to think and to create in an innovative way. Our liberty is unique, how we undertake and adapt it is precious, and as Lucretius says, “If the chain of causes is governed solely by laws, what meaning can you give to the freedom of the will and human action”?
Does this mean we should stick our heads in the sand and carry on as if nothing will change? Of course not. The future will be different and we need to prepare for it. The educational world has the huge task of preparing the workers of tomorrow. The human race has always excelled in creativity, from the paintings in the caves of Lascaux through architecture to modern music. What education should focus on, is stimulating that creativity and teaching people to combine that creativity with the power of AI to make our dreams come true. After all, machines cannot replace our feelings. I am convinced human beings will not turn into emotionless cyborgs. In that sense, I agree with the French philosopher Jean-François Mattei (‘Question de conscience’) that transhumanism should not lead to technology totalitarianism. Instead, AI will help us become less like the machines we are right now, toiling for ten hours a day to get through our ‘to do’-lists. This is our job to invent new lifestyles, imagine new societies, with the potential, through AI, to help us reorganize the way we live, the way we work and provide us with more time to connect with and take care of other humans or living species, making our world a better place for everyone.
All in all, I think we should be hopeful of the prospect that AI and ML are going to help us weather the changes that are ahead of us and we should not fear the machine. I share this belief with Dell Technologies CEO and Chairman Michael Dell: ““Computers are machines. The human brain is an organism. Those are different things. Maybe in 15 to 20 years from now, we’ll have computers that have more power than 10 million brains in terms of computational power, but it’s still not an organism.” We then must take an intuitive approach to imagine how future is formed, with artificial intelligence, as Bergson would stage, to work intelligently on joining forces, not on one taking over the other. As a closing, the notion of ethical conviction should not ignore the alterity dimension, emphasized by Kant.