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This article was published on December 10, 2018

5 ways AI can be an ally for human rights over the next decade

5 ways AI can be an ally for human rights over the next decade
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Today we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by examining the positive ways artificial intelligence will affect humanity in the next decade. Also, we ate an entire cake by ourselves.

There’s very little chance AI will rise up and become sentient any time soon. So there’s no real rush to convene the heads of government and hold a series of extensive arguments about AI and robot rights.

But, it’s a bit strange we’re not doing exactly that with regards to AI and its effect on human rights.

AI can be a powerful ally for human rights as a tool for empowering people. It can also be humankind’s enemy when wielded by unscrupulous or ignorant people, but we’ll get to that another time.

Since it’s a celebration, let’s talk about good stuff. We’ve come a long way in the last 70 years, but until the rights of every human are guaranteed and protected we’re not done. Here’s five ways AI will help in the fight for universal human rights.

Better healthcare

AI has been nothing short of a revolution for the healthcare industry. Not since the discovery of antibiotics has the average physician’s’s ability to treat patients been so radically upgraded. Thanks to AI, doctors and emergency responders can see more patients, diagnose with greater accuracy, and save lives that otherwise would have been lost. It’s a factual statement to say that there are people alive today who would be dead were it not for machine learning.

The next 10 years will probably see more of the same. New algorithms will be invented to further automate medical records and doctors will eventually diagnose in tandem with an AI. The first time a doctor misses a drug interaction at a clinic that has an AI-assistant that spotted it, we’ll probably see a public outcry for all doctors to be AI-assisted. This is a good thing.

Better defense against predators

The Nigerian Prince scam may seem laughable, but it’s made billions of dollars. And it’s going to keep making money because it preys on people who don’t know any better. AI represents a new layer of security for everyone, especially those who aren’t tech insiders.

Antivirus and anti-malware software have become a machine learning domain. And every major email client is infused with AI to handle spam and scam detection. Luckily, this protection is also starting to extend into messaging and social media. Eventually, everywhere we communicate, we’ll have AI working in the background to – at a minimum – scan files.

But, it seems pretty clear that it wouldn’t be beyond current technology to develop something that could offer more than just antivirus support for human interactions. And, there’s probably a pretty good chance that Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri will figure out a way to become more useful as we integrate our personalized virtual assistants further into our lives.

It’s easy to imagine the emergence of a virtual “guardian angel,” with access to monitor all of our accounts and interactions, constantly perusing our data in search of traps, scams, and potentially poor choices.

For example, if you tried to PayPal money to certain addresses related to a scam, the AI could pop up a warning and explain what the problem is. This may sound like surveillance, but if the data were encrypted and anonymized it could be a mathematically sound idea.

Fighting hate

AI can also help us track down hate groups or the source of politically motivated propaganda.

When hate spreads through social media, lies propagate through fake news campaigns, and politicians weaponize propaganda against, we can use machine learning and AI to find its root and expose the humans (and bots) responsible.

Today, researchers can retroactively unveil exactly how a particular fake news article spread and explain how bots were responsible. As scientists gain new and more powerful tools in the fight against bot-spread propaganda it’ll become harder and harder for simple attacks to have the effect they’ve had over the past few years.

And even simple algorithms can help track down human hate groups. With publicly available data, it’s currently possible to glean an incredible amount of information with machine learning.

In the very near future, something like the aforementioned “guardian angel” AI could include a warning system for indoctrination and propaganda, or at a minimum flag material of dubious quality in real time.

Empower the disabled

AI has changed people’s lives in ways they could have never imagined. Take Tania Finlayson, who appeared on stage at Google’s I/O event this year, for example. Were it not for current advances in machine learning she’d have no voice due to her illness. Thanks to a combination of machine learning and old-fashioned Morse code, she’s able to communicate using a special device that relies on natural language processing AI.

Autonomous wheelchairs, AI for the blind, and a myriad of other machine learning-infused products have made an amazing difference in the lives of many already. But the future is even brighter.

Waymo just unveiled the private beta for its autonomous taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona. The world appears poised on the brink of the driverless car era and that could change everything for people who can’t drive for reasons related to their health.

We might not quite reach perfect exoskeletons in the next decade, but AI is certain to bridge the gap between stationary prosthesis and bionics in that time.

No matter how well you get around, or where you’re going, AI will help you get there in the near future.

Putting our data to work

Eventually the big data bonanza will dry up as politicians and consumers get savvy, and companies like Facebook and Google are going to have to figure out a different way to print money. Chances are someone will come along with a private lock we can put on the data, and a way we can sell the key to whomever we want.

We’ve said Facebook and Google should be paying us and we’re wagering someone will come up with a way for people to monetize their own data within the next decade. It may not be worth much in its current form, but with AI handling the heavy-lifting, we could at least gain some much-needed control over our data.

Eventually enough people will get fed up with companies like Facebook making trillions of dollars by exploiting users for data and, just like folks got tired of paying extra for an attendant to pump their gas a few decades back, someone will figure out a way for us to self-serve our own data.

The struggle may continue indefinitely, but at least we’ve gained a new ally in the fight. AI can certainly be used to suppress human rights, but it’s more like a knife than a gun. It can cut some of the ties that have held humanity back, in the right hands.

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