AI is in its infancy stage. Voice-detection technology, suggestive searches, and autonomous cars are just a few of the ways that artificial intelligence has burrowed into our lives, but with different companies competing to be the first to unveil the next level of AI, what does that mean for us?
I’ve been thinking a lot about AI and how it will continue to influence us moving forward, not only in design thinking but in our everyday lives as well. The whole purpose of technology should be to enrich our lives, give people more time to do the things they love in life, spend time with their families, less time at work. It seems, though, that technology is having the opposite effects on society — how many of us spend meals with loved ones on our mobile phones? I think we need to get back to the reasons why we should embrace technology. When it comes to AI, this becomes an even greater mission as we potentially have the capabilities of changing our world in greater ways every day.
What will we automate in the future? How can we use technology to get back to what’s really important in lives? And what effect will it have on the human experience? Let’s discuss.
Will AI Make Our Lives Easier?
For most of our existence, human beings have looked for easier ways to complete menial tasks. From the creation of pulley systems and wheels to dishwashers and drive-thru carwashes, we have tried to invent things to do jobs for us so we could have more time to enjoy our lives. You would have to say that we weren’t missing out on experiences by having machines do these tasks, if anything, we were gaining time to have more of them. But as time went on, some of our best and brightest saw infinite possibilities of where AI could take us.
We are limited only by our imaginations and our ethics.
Robots had been a thing of fantasy for many years before being put to use in factories around the world. They were quicker than us, more precise and didn’t need to take lunch breaks, but they still needed us to program them and tell them what to do. In 1956, the term artificial intelligence was used at a conference at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, and in the years since, government, corporate and public interest has waned and risen. There was a lull in the mid to late 70’s referred to as the “AI Winter”, where pressure from various groups halted progress in AI technology. But in the 80’s, a rejuvenation was found in the work being done by the Japanese. But, yet again, there were some dips and dives in interest. That finally stopped in 1997, when IBM’s Deep Blue became the first computer to beat a human at chess when it defeated world champion, Gary Kasparov. The match brought to light the question of what else could we teach a computer to do? And now, over the last 20 years, only our imagination and the technology we have at our disposal have limited what we can create.
“In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.”– Stephen Hawking
Can robots show love?
She smiles at you, asks how your day was, even gives you a kiss on the cheek. She wants to be a major part of your life, but she was designed and built in a factory. She is what is known as a “companion” robot, and she is being modeled to be as close to the real thing as possible. I ask, can robots show human emotions like love? Do we need to adjust our expectations of what ‘love’ is if we are to embrace AI experiences?
Matt McMullen, C.E.O. of Abyss Creations is programming robots to “arouse you on an emotional and intellectual level. Not just a physical level.” These robots have been one of the first AI advancements to be getting a real push from developers. We know that in some countries, such as Japan and China, people work too much and don’t have enough time to form intimate relationships with a partner. So, many believe these bots are needed, but what is someone losing out on by replacing a real person with an AI duplicate?
Can the ideology of intimacy be programmed? Can a robot fully understand the concept of love? These questions can be discussed and disputed, but I think it comes down to the idea of something you can’t program; a soul or spirit. The old term people use when looking for a significant other is a soulmate, not robot-mate. By trying to replace a real person with an AI replica, you are missing out on the experience of getting to know someone’s darkest fears, dreams, and ambitions. You lose out on getting to know someone right down to their core, not their core processor.
We learn in a variety of ways
Human beings learn things by experiencing them, whether it be visual, auditory or kinesthetically. When we are young, and for most of our lives, we take in information, process it and become more aware of the world around us. Sometimes we need to touch a hot burner as a child to understand heat or have our heads submerged in water to know that we need to be respectful of water. We’re not programmed with any of these truths. We learn by going through the experiences of life. We are taught right from wrong. Outside influence is obviously a factor, but if we have the proper guidance, we can go through life learning lessons as we go about our daily lives. AI could cut out on small tasks and encounters that we need to go through to have the ultimate human experience.
On the other hand, AI is programmed through that of a database of experiences that the machine has not gone through. It only knows what has been put in its circuit boards and processors. It might understand more, but it can’t fully comprehend what it’s like to live and go through a variety of situations and problems. It only sees these scenarios as zeros and ones.
Jobs: Theirs for the Taking?
Many jobs that AI could replace could be considered monotonous or boring, but for some people, that’s what they like. Some individuals enjoy a routine and knowing what their day looks like. By replacing these jobs with AI, you could be taking away not only their livelihood but a big part of their existence on this planet. Fewer positions for humans mean fewer jobs, which means a bigger strain on our global economy. Fewer people working could turn people to doing things they don’t want to have to do to survive, and with less money coming in, that means fewer funds to be put towards experiences, such as trips, following their passion or creating their own business. What are we going to get these people to do?
Will we just get in the way?
Then there is the ultimate fear that has been attributed to AI for years. For those who have seen the Terminator movies, you know what I’m talking about. AI becoming self-aware, and thinking that humans are no longer needed. Imagine something so intelligent that it sees itself as so superior to us that it decides to wipe us out.
This is understandably a worst-case scenario, but the thought has been raised by many groups, like the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. One of the researchers there, Daniel Dewey, says:
“An AI might want to do certain things with matter in order to achieve a goal, things like building giant computers, or other large-scale engineering projects. Those things might involve intermediary steps, like tearing apart the Earth to make huge solar panels. A superintelligence might not take our interests into consideration in those situations, just like we don’t take root systems or ant colonies into account when we go to construct a building.”
This might just be all doom and gloom thinking, but it’s an option that has to be considered going forward with AI, and if we’re all dead, there won’t be anything left for humans to experience. Ergo, the death of human experience.
Fake vs. the real thing
The big question is how much do we value experiences? It might not be something we even think about on a daily basis. We are already seeing that some people are fine with strapping a device to their head to put themselves in situations that they might not normally be able to enjoy. I get that. But look at golf simulators or sports video games. These are things that can be done in the real world. You just have to get off the couch and step outside. These products are useful, especially for people who have mobility issues, but the true experience for most comes from using your senses. What do you smell, hear or see? All of that information is passing through your brain and creates another page of experiences that get logged into your sub-conscience.
A lot of individuals who are on their deathbed say that one of their biggest regrets was not experiencing more. Seeing new places, trying out new hobbies and spending more time with friends, are just a few of the things people wish they had done. It’s the experiences you have that will surely fill your thoughts when your number is called. You will think back fondly of things you took part in, and again, got to experience through the use of all your senses.
We can determine the future.
As soon as we allow a computer or machine to do a task for us, we lose out on the experience of doing said task. I, of course, see the place that AI can have in our world. I think it will become very useful in the near future. I also believe that we need to keep tabs on it, and not let it overtake such an ancestral part of our existence. The human experience is sometimes hard to describe, and we all have different views on the importance of it. But what if by using AI you lose out on an experience that offers a feeling of fulfillment, warmth or love? Would you want to miss out on that just to save some time or effort?
Also, we must never forget about the possibility of a Skynet situation. Again, for all of you Terminator fans out there, myself included.