With headlines like “This is how AI ROBOTS will take over the world” and “AI Will take Half our Jobs” we are definitely entering an interesting time in out technological evolution. Even brilliant scientists like Steven Hawking and business leaders like Elon Musk have put out dire warnings about the dangers of AI on society.
It is more than a bit concerning, especially if your new career is focused on developing and promoting these technological capabilities.
There are definite ethical and perhaps even societal safety considerations regarding the advancement of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI and ML). Forty years ago, these concepts were nothing more than good Sci-Fi movie fodder while now, we carry smart phones in our pockets more powerful than computers of a decade ago that have direct access to cloud-based AI capabilities provided by Google, Siri and a host of other service and app providers. With so much investment and activity in the space, and so many ethical questions, why would someone plan a venture in AI and ML and how can this is a good thing for society going forward? This post is an attempt to address these questions.
Then Genie is Out of the Bottle
Perhaps this isn’t adequately sufficient scientific rationale but it is a fact in my opinion. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the path towards intelligent and semi-intelligent applications, appliances and services is already a very significant work-in-progress. There is not a computer science program Canada, the US or perhaps the world, that has not integrated AI and ML into its programming. There is virtually no option to turn back time (there’s another project ;-) and stop the advancement of AI and ML. Because of this, some organizations have sprung up, such as the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, and Open AI that are making it their mission to ensure that AI and ML will have a safe and positive effect on society. So, if there were good and ethical options to consider in the realm of AI development, that might be an area to focus on. For me and my partners, it then became a question of "Do we let this happen around us, or do we get involved in doing it in a positive way?".
The Quest for a Humanistic AI Platform
It has been recognized in academic and enterprise arenas, that to gain the best outcomes from AI technology, it would be ideal if the technology was able to have some inherent ‘understanding’ the human condition or experience. Like all beings in nature, we are complex analog organisms that have evolved over millions of years. Our languages are complex and powerful and able to convey the emotional and instinctive tendencies that underpin our consciousness. With that in mind, how can machines that process in 1s and ‘0s become our guides, service providers or coaches? The answer to this question, at Kamazooie at least, is that we must develop a processing capability that combines a data architecture for storing information logic with a cognitive analysis method and capability that ties into the human experience. Several years ago, the founders of Kamazooie developed just such a concept. Over the last few years we have been able to confirm this innovation in a patent for a values-based AI platform that we call Designed Emotional Intelligence™ or Kama-DEI. Our unique platform comprises a knowledge-base and a rating-value pair capability that can rate knowledge relationships based on the importance to humans vis-a-vis, human values.
With such a platform, a more humanistic interaction can be enabled between machines and people. For example, what would happen if you told Google or Siri “My house burned down.” Try it, not a lot happens; Siri asks ‘What is your address?’ and Google gives you a listing of advertisements and articles about people whose homes have burned down. Kama-DEI will recognize that your home is one of your most prized and important possessions that connects to your values of safety, security, shelter, family, wealth et cetera. This is the nature of our language and our experience; one small statement can imply so much meaning, tying into so many of the things we value. The Kama-DEI knowledge-base and value-rating scheme allows all of these implications and values to be modeled and acted upon in priority order. So, to be quite honest, once we had come upon this design, the rest became a foregone conclusion; this model and technology concept HAD to see the light of day; it could not be put on the shelf. More importantly, with human values being at the heart of our design for an AI platform, it seemed intuitive that we could provide the potential for the AI applications to have a sense of ‘morals’. This would have enormous potential to improve the user experience of humans interacting with AI and, we hope, it will lessen the chances of Kama-DEI taking over the world as it were.
AI working for (and not against) us
The World Economic Forum recently posted a great article with research about whether we would like humans or AI to do various things for us. For example, ‘Would you want your son or daughter to fight for your country and freedom or would you want AI and robots to fight for you?’. That article, like this one, states that there IS a revolution underway but it is not a revolution of robots against humans, it is a revolution enabled by new technology, not indifferent from the cotton mill, the steam engine, the manufacturing line or the Internet. This technological revolution has the potential to assist mankind in so many ways but it also brings with it moral dilemmas enterprises attempt to capitalize on the opportunity and governments try to regulate it to ensure it delivers net-positive benefits to society. With the Genie half-way out of the bottle, it is clear that this dilemma will be facing us for the next 2 or more decades and it seems fairly clear that the world will look significantly different 2 or more decades from now as a result.
What will happen when all the jobs are gone?
Last week, while addressing the 2017 graduating class at Harvard University, Mark Zuckerberg commented on many things but one of them was the concept of Universal Basic Income. In Ontario/Canada and in other countries, there are pilots active whereby participants in the program will get a small guaranteed income, not unlike social assistance or employment insurance paid when you become laid-off; but this income is not temporary like those social nets.
This is a controversial topic; the concept is seen by some as expensive and rewarding complacency or laziness. Mark Zuckerberg associated the concept of basic income to giving young entrepreneurs ‘the freedom to fail’ and he believes that this concept will create a new era of services, applications and inventions that will be invaluable to society. He went further than that and said that successful people like him, who have had the benefit of building or working for a good company in a good job would have to pay for those who do not have that opportunity. Another concept for the funding of basic income is that the companies that embrace the technology and use it to save operating costs should be taxed higher based on the automation savings but of course this is also controversial in a laissez-faire market environment. Regardless, it does seem logical that there will eventually be too few traditional jobs to go around and society can benefit from new social support system where entrepreneurs, artists and artisans have some guaranteed but minimal income to allow them to develop their interests.
A Renaissance of the Arts
I too believe that basic income will be an essential component of the new social contract, as Zuckerberg put it. As indicated in much of the current research, AI is on-track to replace moderately-skilled, repetitive jobs such as call-centre agents, of which there are many. Therefore, even highly motivated people will have more and more difficulty finding jobs. I believe that in addition to promoting entrepreneurship and new products and services, basic income will also allow people to pursue more artistic passions.
If jobs will be lost to robots and AI, it will only heighten the interest in manually and naturally produced crafts, clothing and other works of art by artists, musicians, writers and artisans. I foresee that as AI proliferates, the value and novelty of hand-made crafts and human-originated content will also increase to provide a ever-burgeoning cottage (or condo) industry. We already have excellent platforms such as Etsy, eBay and Kijii that allow us to market our wares to a global market and basic income can provide the social cushion for artists and artisans to hone their crafts and turn hobbies into real independent businesses that they are passionate about.
Getting out in front of it
While I do believe that the net effect of AI will be a decreasing amount of moderately skilled positions in some areas of employment, I believe that this era will deliver fantastic opportunities for high-tech workers and even students in social arts and science, such as linguistics, psychology and philosophy, to be at the forefront of this new and exciting technological revolution. While simple and very focused learning technologies and applications are appearing, we are a long-long way from sophisticated or sentient machines that can train themselves up to and beyond the singularity. But to participate in this rapidly emerging field, it will take a concerted effort. It was extremely refreshing to see Canadian universities, Ontario, Canada and the enterprise community come together to fund and establish the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in the heart of downtown Toronto.
This amazing initiative, led by Google Fellow Geoffrey Hinton (above), will create a meeting and breeding ground for the public and private sectors to collaborate on the next generation of AI and ML. With the lure and attraction of high-tech opportunities in the San Francisco Silicon Valley area, this is exactly what Canada needs to stem the brain-drain and create an ecosystem of focused collaboration on artificial intelligence in our own country.
The glass is more than half-full
So, I for one, don’t believe that the era of AI and ML is going to have a net-negative impact on our society. I see so much potential for conversational agents to assist with our education, pastimes, social well-being and our career development and I find these possibilities very, very exciting. Of course with every advancement, there is the possibility for negative outcomes but we can’t let fear of this stand in our way of achieving the benefits that this new era will provide. I do subscribe to the notion of socially responsible advancement in AI and I do believe that with our values-based technology, we have the potential to provide an AI platform that can be a helpful and cognitive ‘friend’ to its user community as opposed to a semi-conscious over-lord that threatens to take over the world as we know it. Well here’s hoping anyway! :-)