The Big Question: Is artificial intelligence improving or taking over our lives?

bdnews24 desk
Published : 4 Jan 2011, 04:52 PM
Updated : 26 March 2017, 03:13 PM

© 2016 The New York Times
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

Is artificial intelligence improving or taking over our lives? From driverless cars and smart robots to drones and computer chess champions, is technology making our lives more interesting, convenient and safer? Or is it evolving faster than we can absorb? Garry Kasparov, Nnedi Okorafor, Faith Popcorn, Shauna Mei, Neil Harbisson, Joi Ito and Susan Bennett contemplate the impact of AI on all of us.

By Garry Kasparov
© 2016 Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov is the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and a former world chess champion. His book "Deep Thinking" on the human-machine relationship will be published by Public Affairs in spring 2017.

Machines have been replacing humans since the first one was invented many thousands of years ago — and on the very next day it probably created new jobs when three people were needed to fix it. Humans are adaptable. We're creative. We use machines to make new things, solve new problems and create whole industries that we can't yet imagine. Doomsaying is easy, and natural. We can see what's being lost, but we don't see the new things until they arrive.

As I learned in my chess matches against the IBM computer Deep Blue 20 years ago, humans will always find a way to build machines that replicate human performance. And while humans still play chess, entire professions will continue to go the way of the elevator operator as machines become more capable. The good news is that intelligent machines also liberate us from tedious labor, letting us be more imaginative and more ambitious — although of course one person's "liberated" is another person's "unemployed," at least in the short term.

Human ambition is the key to staying ahead of automation, and that's what worries me far more than killer robots. The huge increases in productivity that machines provide must be invested aggressively, not squandered. We're very good at teaching machines how to do our old jobs —  so the solution is to keep inventing new ones. The only job security for the human race is to press into the new and the unknown.

By Nnedi Okorafor
© 2016 Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is a science fiction and fantasy writer. Her young adult novel, "Akata Witch 2: Akata Warrior," comes out in autumn 2017.

When I contemplate the future impact of artificial intelligence on humanity, African roads come to mind. Giant locally made humanoid robots are already policing the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The solar-powered, 8-foot-tall robots are stationed at the center of a handful of intersections where they keep traffic down and drivers and pedestrians safe.

Created by Thérèse Izay Kirongozi, a Kinshasa engineer, the robots have rotating chests that enable them to do the job of four traffic lights. They're also equipped with cameras that record and monitor drivers. These robot traffic cops work around the clock and are beloved by locals (and they don't accept bribes).

There is already talk of bringing robot cops to other African intersections. Once they're installed in traffic-crippled cities like Lagos and Cairo, the next logical step would be to upgrade them with artificial intelligence so they can perform their complex tasks better. The roads of Africa's greatest cities will unclog, paving a way for efficiency to take over on a broader scale.

By Faith Popcorn
© 2016 Faith Popcorn
Faith Popcorn is a futurist, author and CEO of BrainReserve, a strategic consultancy.

Yes, it's possible that thousands of us will be robo-replaced: Oxford University reports that 47% of U.S. workers will be automated into unemployment within two decades. Pepper, the humanoid robot, is snagging receptionist jobs. The artificial intelligence service Brain.fm is composing the music that our Olympians listen to as they train. And the program Quill is writing financial news. A guaranteed minimum income will come to America soon enough when salaries are a thing of the past.

At the same time, however, voice recognition and transcription software will allow us to speak, not write, our Great American Novels. Translation apps are on the verge of making real-time conversations flow around the globe. Watson, the IBM supercomputer, may have saved a Tokyo woman's life, diagnosing her rare leukemia when doctors couldn't. Robots like Robear (a bear-like nursing-care assistant) will alleviate loneliness when our lifespan stretches to age 150. With our minds freed from the drudgery of work, perhaps we'll elevate our society and revel in a new Golden Age. Count me in.

By Shauna Mei
© 2016 Shauna Mei
Shauna Mei is the CEO and Founder of AHALife, an online marketplace for curated products.

When shopping for clothing, we consider size, price and color. But other factors are equally important: a garment's style, how it feels and drapes on the body, and how its manufacturing   impacts the environment or the local economy. These elements must be judged by a human.

Artificial intelligence augments that judgment. AI can learn your "style," your propensity toward "conscious consumption" and your spending habits, then choose specific items from a catalogue more efficiently than you ever could. This collaborative filtering is better at predicting purchases than an expert stylist's recommendations are.

At AHAlife.com, we've started using algorithms to help us with two predictive behaviors: showing the right products to our customers before they even know they want them and providing the right marketing copy to encourage them to buy. In the new world of online "discovery shopping," even when your preferences guide your browsing, the choices are so vast. Human-augmented AI helps you to save time and make more discerning purchases.

By Neil Harbisson
© 2016 Neil Harbisson
Neil Harbisson is a British artist and cyborg activist. Born with color blindness, he has had an antenna implanted in his skull that allows him to extend his perception of color beyond the visual spectrum.

I don't think machines will be interested in murdering and destroying us; that wouldn't be intelligent enough — humans already know how to do that. Evading death by robot, however, isn't our only concern as artificial intelligence begins to rise. If we don't want technology to become more intelligent than humans, then humans need to become technology. If we become cyborgs we can evolve at the same speed as our technological counterparts. By adding artificial senses to our bodies, we will be able to extend our perception of reality, acquire more knowledge and become more intelligent.

We are the first generation that can truly decide who we want to be as a species. We can add new senses and additional organs to extend our bodies' capacity to experience the world. We can, in effect, redesign ourselves. Our current evolutionary step is to merge with technology and take an active part in the birth of our future selves.

By Joi Ito
© 2016 Joi Ito
Joi Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab, a research laboratory devoted to the integration of technology, art and design.

The bulk of today's artificial intelligence (AI) research focuses on machine learning, where engineers "train" machines to augment the collective intelligence of our governments, markets and society. This "extended intelligence" (EI) will likely become the dominant form of AI. Here's the rub: The algorithms that create EI are trained by humans and can propagate the same biases that plague society, perpetuating them under the guise of "smart machines." Take, for instance, predictive policing algorithms used to determine which neighborhoods should be more heavily patrolled for criminal activity, or who should be classified as a terrorist. Unless we embed ethical and moral grounding, technology meant to advance our well-being could, in fact, end up amplifying the worst aspects of our society.

Well-intentioned uses of developing technologies can go wrong. In 2003 I co-authored a paper that predicted that an open internet would play a significant role in democratizing society and fostering peace. Later, in the early days of the Arab Spring, it felt as though the internet had indeed helped spark the uprising. But as the internet has increasingly become a place for bigotry and malicious trolling as well as a platform for organizations like ISIS to advance a wave of hatred, I wonder, "What hath the internet wrought?" I have similar concerns about the development and deployment of EI.

It's absolutely essential for us to develop a framework for how our ethics, government, educational system and media evolve in the age of machine intelligence. We must initiate a broader, in-depth discussion about how society will co-evolve with this technology, and we must build a new kind of computer science that creates technologies that are not only "smart," but are also socially responsible. If we allow EI to develop without thoughtfully managing how it integrates with, and affects, society, it could be used to amplify dangerous biases and entities. And we may not notice until it's too late.

By Susan Bennett
© 2016 Susan Bennett
Susan Bennett is a voice actress and in 2011 became the original voice of Apple iPhone's Siri.

It seems we no longer have to use our brains as much as we once did. Any one of our digital devices can instantly give us information that, in the past, would have required that we do research, read books … use the computers in our own heads. So, does a brain atrophy in the same way as a muscle if it isn't used? As machines get smarter, is the opposite happening to us?

Unless machines are programmed with human emotions, we'll have new intelligent creatures that won't hate each other because of race, creed, or religion — something that humans have seemed incapable of doing in the 6,000 years civilized man has been on the planet. But will they be able to create art, music, literature… comedy?

We're about to find out in the next few years. Perhaps AI's will replace humans, and Siri will lead us quietly into the sea. Fortunately for me, since Apple changed the original Siri voices worldwide beginning with the i0S7, she'll no longer have my voice. Perhaps Morgan Freeman's?

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher