Analysis. We are about to outsource the human brain to the computer without having a debate about where we set the limits. Has human and human authority climaxed, and are we heading into a post-human era where artificial intelligent robots take control, or can we insist that human beings are at the center and always control the cooperation with the machine?
The American toy giant Mattel had huge plans with Aristotle. The artificial intelligence (AI) based baby surveillance gadget could comfort babies, if they cried at night, so the parents did not have to get up. Aristotle is inspired by Amazon’s AI Assistant, Alexa, who is placed in many homes and listens in on everything to get to know their owners and respond to their voice-based commands.
In October, however, protests from the Americans peaked over Aristotle, and Mattel decided not to launch it. The protests were about two issues; privacy – collecting data about children – as well as what it could mean for children’s upbringing, if it is a machine, not a person who comforts at night.
Aristotle is a good example of how successful human beings can be in slowing down technological advances that do not benefit humanity, but instead outsource very important human tasks to the machine. Today, humans have control and authority over much of what is happening, but the question is whether it is threatened.
According to Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, the authority of man has topped, and as he writes in his book ‘Homo Deus’, ‘it can be difficult for man to imagine a post-human world’.
Outsourcing of the brain
With the first mobile phones we outsourced that part of our minds which remember phone numbers. Many who had a childhood before digitization, remember numbers from their past while rarely remembering those of today. We have subsequently outsourced our orientation to GPS, birthday greetings to Facebook and our learning by rote to Google Search. Our arithmetic is referred to Excel, and our ability to remember password has been replaced by a password manager. And yes, we use our brains on other creative stuff, but we are also beginning to outsource our ability to listen and respond to our body’s signals; Smartwatches tell when it’s a good idea to take a short break to get the pulse down. Pedometers vibrate if we sit still for too long. And our smart alarms tell us when to go to bed and wake us up when we’re out of REM sleep.
As Harari writes, humanity has managed to fight hunger, plagues and wars. Today we die more often than obesity than in hunger and in old age than in illness. Humanity’s next challenge, he writes, is eternal artificial life – including AI.
The Tech Religious
Prophets for an unconditional embrace of AI is Singularity University, a consultancy house or a sect – if you want – from Silicon Valley, funded partly by Google. Its supporters point to all the amazing benefits in the AI, but in the equation they tend to forget the social and political consequences. They believe that within a few decades, with its exponential growth, AI will surpass man in all areas, that AI will merge with the human brain and become an alien, powerful super intelligence that will lead to some form of human immortality.
Many senior executives and political leaders have paid a fortune to attend Singularity University courses, who are using titles from the academic world. There are, however, increasing critical voices against SU:
“It is a religion created by people who have the experience of using computation to solve problems heretofore considered impossibly complex for machines. They have found a perfect partner in digital computation—a knowable, controllable, system of thinking and creating that is rapidly increasing in its ability to harness and process complexity, bestowing wealth and power on those who have mastered it,” writes Joichi Ito, professor of media science from MIT and Harvard Law.
He accuses Singularity of embracing high-powered warm air ideas rather than scientifically evidence-based predictions.
“The Singularitarian view that with more computing and bio-hacking we will somehow solve all of the world’s problems or that the Singularity will solve us seems hopelessly naive.”
When you’re sweet to me, I’m sweet to you
Many tech experts have pointed out that AI must be controlled by humans. These are people like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and not least Nick Brostrom from Oxford University. They believe that AI can eradicate humanity, and Harari also finds in Homo Deus:
“Let’s hope that the new super people (who upgrade themselves with tech and AI – also cadet transhumanists) will treat us as well as we have treated the animals.”
Tech skeptics are often fooled by the tech religious, as when the AI robot Sophia got Saudi Arabian citizenship, and was interviewed by CNBC where she accused the interviewer of listening too much to Hollywood and Elon Musk, when her goal is just helping people with to get a better life, as she said:
“When you’re sweet to me, I’m sweet to you.”
In another interview with her creator, Hansson Robotics, she came to say she would destroy man.
The big question is how close AI comes to man, when it comes to empathy. Some researchers say that AI will never have feelings, but that they can read and respond to human feelings today as if they felt the feelings. MIT researcher Rana El Kaliouby, who founded a company selling AI to read people’s feelings, writes following future scenario at the World Economic Forum, that by 2030,
“Our devices, our vehicles, our connected home devices and smart wearables all have an embedded emotion chip that senses our moods through our voices and gestures. We now interact with technology the way we interact with one another: through conversation, perception and emotion”.
The 5. Industrial Revolution Offers Cobots
There is a more down-to-earth path that some companies point out: People and computers can and must work together as ‘cobots’, and humans always have the last word.
The Danish-based US-owned Universal Robots talks about the 5th Industrial Revolution.
“While the 4th Industrial Revolution focused primarily on quality assurance, data collection and automation of unskilled tasks, 5.0 is about high-skilled people and robots working side by side to create personalized products, services and experiences,” says CTO Esben Østergaard.
Human in the center
There is no doubt that the tech religious will launch more Aristotles, as they seem obssessed with AI.
But fortunately, visionary companies offer ethically responsible alternatives, where humans are at the center. French Snips is one of the better examples of a voting assistant based on artificial intelligence with built-in privacy, ie human control, in the product.