The coming rise of AI means humanity will need to grow up

The coming rise of AI means humanity will need to grow up

Supriya Jain heads the Global Thought Leadership Marketing Initiative at Wipro Ltd and is also the Founder of Miitra, a social organization for the elderly.

Perhaps the most exciting and talked about technology today is Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, mentions of AI can be traced back to antiquity, be it Greek Mythology that talked about Talos – a man made of bronze, to the more recent works of Isaac Asimov that penned down the three laws of robotics for the Sci-fi buffs.

In 1997, Deep Blue defeated the world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Then in 2001, Steven Spielberg released the movie A.I. highlighting the complicated relationship between ‘Mechas’ and ‘Orgas’ in an age of artificial intelligence and the subject caught attention of the masses.

A decade later IBM’s Watson went on to win Jeopardy – a game where players respond with the question to the answer statements – and opened doors to real applications of AI.

IBM's Watson Computer System Plays Jeopardy! in a Practice Round

For most humans, the concept of intelligent machines is disconcerting to say the least – not surprising, given that they associate the advent of machine intelligence as something that will take away their jobs, or take over the planet. And this is just the beginning.

The world, it seems to them, is spinning out of control. With the singularity predicted by Ray Kurzweil (by 2050 the intelligence of one machine will be more than the combined intelligence of humanity) getting closer the human – machine equation is only going to get more complicated.

While some of the concerns are valid – for instance some jobs will lose their significance in the long run – it is up to us to decide how we develop ourselves to be relevant in the new machine age.

While determining how things will be post-singularity is impossible, let’s look at some areas that need our immediate attention and change:

1. Education

The role of education is to prepare us for the life ahead. In today’s education system we spend at least 18 or so years in school learning facts, figures and trivia. This information – 90 percent of which we forget in the first two years – is today available at our fingertips via our smartphones.

With rapid advances in technology, the day is not far when all school curriculms can be programmed into a chip and implanted in our brains. Voila, 18 years of education in less than 18 minutes. But then what about schools, and the entire education system. What is their role in preparing us for the future?

2. Work

Intelligent machines will change how we work in the ways we cannot even comprehend. It’s not only the routine tasks that machines can do better, but also knowledge work by analyzing thousands of possibilities in fractions of seconds.

For instance, IBM’s Watson is now in med school. Soon, we shall be able access Dr. Watson from our smart devices and get better medical care. Then what is the future of work for humans?

We’ve all been through training sessions that taught us how to collaborate better and embrace diversity. But those lessons always focused on all human teams. What happens when team interactions include humans AND machines?

3. Ethics

This is one grey area where there are no insights yet. If machines gain superhuman intelligence, what is to stop them from manipulating us? Or what can some malicious individuals/ organizations do with such technology in their hands?

What are the values that will be under stress in future? How do we conserve what is really important and how to we develop machine intelligence to correspond to this value system?

Humanity needs to grow up

While leading minds across the globe are grappling with the above questions – the simple truth is that humanity needs to grow up. The answer lies not in stopping progress but evolving to maximizing the benefits of it.

Instead of crying foul over each technological development, let’s take a breather and see what technology has done for humanity. First, technological progress has always made lives better. The fire, the wheel, iron tools, steam engine – all have contributed to human growth and development. Newer technologies such as social media and mobility have made the world more accessible, transparent and accountable.

But culture has had to evolve with the technology. And therefore, for our next leap of technological progress, we need to work on the cultural leap as well. Yet, while technology grows exponentially, culture grows logarithmically and takes time to evolve. Therefore we must start the process of change now; indeed we may be too late already!

What needs to change

The first thing we need to fix is the education system. Schools must evolve from the industrial age learning system, to one more suitable to the machine age. They need to teach children the 21st Century skills. How to communicate better, how to apply critical thinking, and embrace new points of view?

With AI aided cognitively enhanced humans, schooling tenures need to reduce drastically but learning must continue lifelong. Schooling must be more about ethics, culture, community, quality of life and appreciation of ‘being human’ than about trigonometry.

As intelligent machines become an integral part of teams of the future and work alongside the humans, the skills learnt in school will be applied to the workplace. New business and management practices more suitable to these new dynamics will need to be adopted. Management challenges will be centered more on the human EQ vs machine IQ and delegation of work according to these strengths.

And central to all this change will be the value system. How do we find meaningful applications of human capabilities? The society will have to be more honest and transparent. We are already witnessing the rise of the sharing economy that will become the cornerstone of a society where equal access is granted to all resources.

Developments in AI can lead us to a human Utopia, but there is a fork in the road, and where we end up will be decided by which road we choose to follow.

Are you going to make the right choice?

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