How can we ensure that AI benefits society?

16 : 11 : 2017 Technology : Artificial Intelligence : Education
Geomancer by Lawrence Lek Geomancer by Lawrence Lek

If we do not fully understand the negative and positive future scenarios [regarding AI], how can we possibly hope to prevent or instigate them?

Rebecca Coleman, senior writer, The Future Laboratory

Arguments about the future of AI abound. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s contention is that those who do not support AI innovation stand in the way of human progression, while Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk believes that we must become one with AI to ensure we do not become its ‘house cats’. Professor Stephen Hawking’s assertion is that AI could ‘spell the end of the human race’.

While no one knows quite what the future of AI holds, one thing is certain – AI is here to stay. There is an urgent need to create structures and systems around its development to ensure Hawking’s prophecy does not become a reality, and create a world in which AI is used to benefit humanity.

‘At a time when many people are wearying of political engagement, it’s all the more important to enable a thoughtful, informed discussion about the disruptive role of new technology in politics,’ says David Wood, chair of London Futurists and executive director of think tank Transpolitica. ‘What’s most needed is clarity on the way that technology, when wisely deployed, can dramatically enhance the quality of life for everyone. This technoprogressive, transhumanist vision of sustainable practical abundance can fill the void that is currently driving voters into warring camps.’

The idea that technology can be used to heal rather than create societal rifts may seem utopian, especially as billionaires in Silicon Valley create AI systems in their own image. In order for technology to provide the solutions that society so desperately needs, greater collaboration is needed between inventors, scientists, governments and, crucially, people outside these spheres.

For this to happen, enhanced discussions and educational initiatives around AI need to be implemented across society. If we do not fully understand the negative and positive future scenarios, how can we possibly hope to prevent or instigate them?

In addition to the need to develop a deeper understanding of AI, it is imperative that we learn to appreciate and understand the human qualities that set us apart from the machines.

Recognising this, many educational institutions are now adding AI to their syllabuses. Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and INSEAD in France are just some of the schools that have added MBA courses on the subject.

Although these courses are a step in the right direction, they are still elitist in nature. Not all of us can attend prestigious schools like these or fully understand the content of the courses they offer. There is a need for more grassroots educational initiatives and participation, especially among digital-first children, some of whom have a deeper understanding of technology than their parents, and who will be most affected by the changes driven by the rise of AI.

In addition to the need to develop a deeper understanding of AI, it is imperative that we learn to appreciate and understand the human qualities that set us apart from the machines (at least for the foreseeable future). Emotional intelligence (EI) skills should be taught in all schools, alongside AI skills. This will ensure that humans are able to differentiate themselves from machines, and safeguard against a future in which we have allowed humanity to destroy itself. Combining empathy and technology will enable humanity to more readily tackle political, societal and environmental challenges in the future.

For more on the need to navigate our relationship with AI, see our Neo-kinship macrotrend.