Looking to the Future of AI

Our future rests in the hands of the companies and governments developing the next generation of AI, for better and worse.

By Xische Editorial, July 1, 2019

Source: Visual Generation/ Shutterstock

Source: Visual Generation/Shutterstock

The future of Artificial Intelligence (AI)  is not difficult to imagine. AI innovations are going to change society for better and worse. The constant stream of data that defines the majority of our lives – from social media check-ins, to online banking, to mapping applications – will power future machine intelligence. The more data we invest in the system, the better machines will be at detecting everything from early signs of illness to the safest route our kids can take to school.

But while the future of AI is bright, there is one challenge: regulation. Social media companies, smartphone manufacturers, governments, and AI labs require as much information as possible about our daily lives. As AI systems become increasingly helpful, we will happily hand over even more of our data to the giants of the industry. The power and promise of millions of people connected to smart devices and the unlimited knowledge they facilitate are mind-boggling. One outcome of this hyper connectivity is the loss of privacy.

 Soon, the devices that collect our data and guide our actions will no longer be sitting on our desktops or held in our hands. Already we are wearing devices on our wrists that track everything from our steps to our heartbeat, and can even be programmed to send a reminder to get up a move around if we have been sitting too long. Ingestibles and implants that collect data from within our bodies will become commonplace with AI analyzing data and directing courses of treatment or suggesting preventative measures. 

It is this data we willingly hand over that is powering our current and future AI revolution. How might we use this data to advance human society? What will be the ethical and political contours of our decisions? Who is held liable if our very thoughts are augmented by AI? Such a development would have profound impact for society but would require much more surveillance of our lives. These tradeoffs exist with every innovation. Everyday life will continue to change: systems will become more streamlined and ‘easier’ but fundamental ethical and philosophical questions will remain. What does it mean to be human?

Even uniquely human traits such as artistic expression are at stake as algorithms learn to compete with Picasso. In the past five years there have been dramatic improvements in the ability of AI to produce works of art, with startups in this field selling their paintings to international auction houses such as Sotheby’s. Studies show some people even believe AI-produced art to be better than the real thing. 

But innovation in art is nothing new. The German theorist Walter Benjamin argued the theory in his landmark 1935 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in what now sounds eerily prescient about the current state of AI in the field. “We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”

The old fear that humans will lose control as machines become more powerful and smarter is a diversion that feeds our collective anxiety about the future. In reality, we are in a stage of multiplicity with machine learning. AI has largely improved our daily lives, but the fear we default to is actually fear of the companies that create and control AI infrastructure, not the technology itself.

As such, the importance of AI innovation as it pertains to advancing humanity, making the world a safer, cleaner, and more prosperous place, and addressing global challenges, rests firmly in the hands of the private companies and governments developing it.

If the products they create don’t improve our lives, then the promise of AI as a positive force will be limited and our collective anxiety will deepen. However, if machine learning is open source and regulated in a manner that prioritizes the public good, then AI could transform humanity for the better. The promise of AI ultimately lies in how we organize society, and which values we choose to uphold and which we choose to ignore.