New Social Contract With Intelligent Systems

Advancements in intelligent systems (AI, robotics, etc.) require us to make important decisions now for our future. The technology is currently on the doorstep. We are accustomed to talking to a voice on our cellphone (Siri) and barking orders to a system in our car. Though, it is a commonly accepted notion that AI becomes pervasive in just about everything we do.

Intelligent Systems
Intelligent Systems

One perspective of futuristic AI is captured in the film Her about a lonely writer who reaches out to an operating system to satisfy his companionship needs. The AI is intelligently responsive, attentive, curious, and seemingly emotional. (Of course, having Scarlet Johannsson’s husky, luring voice and a picture of her in your mind further sells the idea; this is why you know she is doing the voice over before you watch the film.)

As we race to adopt advanced technologies, some of the issues include: educating future generations on how and when to use them, providing universal access, establishing social norms – boundaries when it is appropriate, and mitigating excessive security controls.

It is still hard to predict the best ways to educate children with using intelligent systems. What is the criteria in deciding what facts and information has to be memorized versus being retrieved from an intelligent system? (As I have said in a previous blog on knowledge, building skills will have more value than memorizing facts and information.) Should there be limitations on the frequency or duration of ‘nudges’? Is it ethical to receive deep emotional encouragement from AI?

There was an article in the NYT about an autistic child who found personal satisfaction in communicating with Siri through his IPhone. It is an uplifting story because, as his mom acknowledges, he receives attention and comfort he probably does not get in other ways.[i] As AI becomes more advanced, this situation – having relationships with AI – plays out with a broader segment of the population.

Using AI frequently requires multitasking. A highly contested issue is whether multitasking has a positive or negative influence on a person’s cognitive abilities. There was a study that says “yes”, multitasking is an acquired skill.[ii] In another article, the results were negative: multitaskers had less grey matter density in their brain and had a more difficult time concentrating when they need to.[iii]

According to Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT: “technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequalities”.[iv] Futurists predict a bifurcation of the classes, where the middle class splits into the upper and lower classes. Highly skilled professionals with access to new technologies find jobs, the rest will be under- or un- employed. As a society, we must make the latest technologies accessible to all in K-12 and higher education; this might be a simplistic argument, but what about the commitment to follow through on it. Currently there is support in providing internet access to all; in the future, there needs to be similar support in providing advance technologies (like AI) to all.

One of the most prominent transhumanists is the inventor and philosopher Ray Kurzweil, currently director of engineering at Google, and popularizer of the concept of the technological “singularity” – a point he puts at around 2045, when artificial intelligence will outstrip human intelligence for the first time.[v]

Some people embrace AI, some people abhor AI. Regardless, advancements in AI will continue to move forward because people want to feel happier, increase productivity and become more intelligent. There will be a new social contract laying out how humans interact with AI.

In the latest Wired, there was an article about the dangers in giving an authority control over newer technologies – especially those engrained to us in a personal way. Currently authorities can use a ‘kill switch’ on a cell phone, eavesdrop on our communications, and take control of our computer or devices. What about implanted devices? Should you be concerned in interacting with an intelligent system in a personal way, letting it know all your behaviors and what you are thinking?

What the net is, is the nervous system of the 21st Century. It’s time we started acting like it.[vi]

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/fashion/how-apples-siri-became-one-autistic-boys-bff.html

[ii] http://online.wsj.com/articles/teen-researchers-defend-media-multitasking-1413220118

[iii] http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/Multitasking-Damages-Your-Brain-and-Your-Career-2102500909-p-1.html

[iv] David Rotman. Technology and Inequality. (MIT Technology Review, November 2014).

[v] http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/the-future-is-android/index.html

[vi] Cory Doctorow. Keep Out Don’t Let Uncle Sam Invade Your Devices. (Wired, November 2014 Issue).

Original Image © Depositphoto/ agsandrew #55272329

4 thoughts on “New Social Contract With Intelligent Systems”

  1. Provocative article. should get people thinking. On 11/3/2014 9:10 AM, TheProfessionalWebsite – Personal Professional Website wrote: > WordPress.com > TheProfessionalWebsite posted: “Advancements in intelligent systems > (AI, robotics, etc.) require us to make important decisions now for > our future. The technology is currently on the doorstep. We are > accustomed to talking to a voice on our cellphone (Siri) and barking > orders to a system” >

  2. A compelling case for cities through public libraries to invest in more advanced tech. Robotics lending programs, code academies, advanced manufacturing/maker labs, and digital production spaces could be part of the solution.

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