The social function of AI: will AI help us become better humans? (10/15/18)

The social function of AI: will AI help us become better humans? (10/15/18)

The debate on ethics, values & algorithms is already fired up. It’s leading some of our finely-tuned thinkers to ask painful questions about the nature of our values, if universal, if any. Will open the pandora’s box on the meaning of being human help us envision a better version of ourselves?


The debate on ethics & algorithms comes at a most ideal point in time

And it’s all related to how we function as a species. Let us explain:


We, as humans, have a natural tendency to search for certainty. This quest for certainty is not only philosophical but biological. It allows us to build up an identity, both an individual and a social one. A person: Danielle, Jack. A nation: North America, Zimbabwe.


Certainty is more effortlessly collected and interpreted when the times are not a-changing. When politics are okay, policies seem coherent, we do feel taken care of. However, in volatile and shaky times, like those we are living and experiencing, our capacity to be certain about us and about the world surrounding us decreases dramatically.


As volatility increases, the quest to maintain an identity and hold up to a collective vision hardens up. Certainties about democracy, power structures and our place in the world enter a grey area.


It’s in this framework where third wave, narrow Artificial Intelligence takes the stage to better things up. Unintendedly.


Think about it: the global race to be the spearhead of AI and its ethics. Opening public and private spaces where the role, limitations & values alignment of these exponential technologies are discussed. Thanks to these items, which we could comprise in a universal human quest to be literate about the future that is to come, I firmly believe that we will be forced to rethink who we are, what is the purpose and what are the responsibilities that derive from being intelligent and, most importantly for the times coming, who do we want to beWhat values define us. And, maybe, start living up to them.


You can see the offsprings of this in active AI warriors like Bryan Johnson and his need to build up a “Plan for Humanity”, but also at the heart of Future of Life’s “AI Principles”, or the yet to come debates performed by the brand new Ada Lovelace Institute, very well backed up by the Nuffield Trust & Doteveryone.


But, hey. Let’s take a deeper look at what this really means.


What is certainty and why do we need it?

Our cognition, a.k.a, the way we filter the world and then interpret it, is a survival tool we are totally dependant upon. In cognition resides our need to find meaning in everything we see & feel, and create stories that explain what is happening. Our brains go crazy with this tool, generating correlations among seemingly different events for them to make sense.


The rain (it must be a god crying or punishing us); outstanding, heart-pounding romantic love (it must be destiny); society (representative democracy makes sense since I thrive in it). These stories make you feel safe. And this safeness feeds our sense of identity and purpose.


So, we all need an identity & purpose

It’s important, for our health and the wealth of our societies, that we feel we have a defined, righteous-feeling identity. It’s the ultimate explainer of our role within society. An identity makes our existence purposeful.


… And the more consistent and stable the narratives with which we feed ourselves, the more integrated, the more purposeful our identity.

Also, identity, as well as the intelect, is continuosly changing.


This means that our brains won’t stop rewiring themselves to continue creating self-reassuring or dissonant narratives for us to feel safe and guided, reminding us the way the world works is okay.


But our identities & truths & dogmas need to feed themselves upon reality. And nowadays, the volatile nature and absolute uncertainty of a world that seems to have partially lost its vision is breaking us.


Feeling like we are losing purpose feels painful

Not having a plan or not remembering what values do we hold on to has its consequences. Faith in the pillars of occidental democracy has partially fallen. The colors that paint our system have lost its luster. Social unrest arises. Cultures clash within the United States. Leaders fail to beacon our way forward. We have lost Brazil to the far right.


Restoring purpose: there is a way forward that may enlighten the way


Here comes ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶n̶ AI.


The current debate on narrow AI, algorithms & its biases is a magic trick that will open the door for us to rethink ourselves. Collectively build a way forward. Rethinking values. Rethink us.


So may AI, please, hold the light of this social function, because it’s going to help us light the way. A new vision for progress it’s running on our behalf. Let’s compete to pay the most rounds.


Thanks to those taking a stance. Among others, again: Doteveryone (UK), the Centre for Data Ethics (UK), startups like New Knowledge (US), Pindrop Security (US) or the newcomer Ethyka from ACUILAE (Spain), who has already build up a platform-based analyzer of ethical dilemmas in widely used algortihms and will, for sure, light up the debate across the Atlantic.

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