Do the benefits of artificial intelligence outweigh the risks?

The discussion around Artificial Intelligence (AI) can sound a lot like Brexit. It’s coming but we don’t know when. It could destroy jobs but it could create more. There’s even questions about sovereignty, democracy and taking back control.

Yet even the prospect of a post Brexit Britain led by Boris “fuck business” Johnson doesn’t conjure the same level of collective anxiety as humanity’s precarious future in the face of super-intelligent AI. Opinions are divided as to whether this technological revolution will lead us on a new path to prosperity or a dark road to human obsolescence. One thing is clear, we are about to embark on a new age of rapid change the like of which has never been experienced before in human history. 

From cancer to climate change the promise of AI is to uncover solutions to our overwhelmingly complex problems. In healthcare, its use is already speeding up disease diagnoses, improving accuracy, reducing costs and freeing up the valuable time of doctors.

In mobility the age of autonomous vehicles is upon us. Despite two high-profile incidents from Uber and Tesla causing death to pedestrians in 2017, companies and investors are confident that self-driving cars will replace human operated vehicles as early as 2020. By removing human error from the road AI evangelists claim the world’s one million annual road deaths will be dramatically reduced while simultaneously eliminating city scourges like congestion and air pollution.

AI is also transforming energy. Google’s DeepMind is in talks with the U.K. National Grid to cut the country’s energy bill by 10% using predictive machine learning to analyse demand patterns and maximise the use of renewables in the system.

In the coming decades autonomous Ubers, AI doctors and smart energy systems could radically improve our quality of life, free us from monotonous tasks and speed up our access to vital services.

But haven’t we heard this story of technological liberation before? From Facebook to the gig economy we were sold a story of short term empowerment neglecting the potential for long-term exploitation.

In 2011 many were claiming that Twitter and Facebook had helped foment the Arab Spring and were eagerly applauding a new era of non-hierarchical connectivity that would empower ordinary citizens as never before. But fast forward seven years and those dreams seem to have morphed into a dystopian nightmare.

It’s been well documented that the deployment of powerful AI algorithms has had devastating and far reaching consequences on democratic politics. Personalisation and the collection of data is not employed to enhance user experience but to addict and profit from our manipulation by third parties.

Mustafa Suleyman co-founder of DeepMind has warned that just like other industries, AI suffers from a dangerous asymmetry between market-based incentives and wider societal goals. The standard measures of business achievement, from fundraising valuations to active users, do not capture the social responsibility that comes with trying to change the world for the better.

One eerie example is Google’s recently launched AI assistant under the marketing campaign “Make Google do it”. The AI will now do tasks for you such as reading, planning, remembering and typing. After already ceding concentration, focus and emotional control to algorithms, it seems the next step is for us to relinquish more fundamental cognitive skills.

This follows an increasing trend of companies nudging us to give up our personal autonomy and trust algorithms over our own intuition. It’s moved from a question of privacy invasion to trying to erode control and trust in our minds. From dating apps like Tinder to Google’s new assistant the underlying message is always that our brains are too slow, too biased, too unintelligent. If we want to be successful in our love, work or social life we need to upgrade our outdated biological feelings to modern, digital algorithms.

Yet once we begin to trust these digital systems to make our life choices we will become dependent upon them. The recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal of data misuse to influence the U.S election and Brexit referendum gives us a glimpse into the consequences of unleashing new and powerful technology before it has been publicly, legally and ethically understood.

We are still in the dark as to how powerful these technologies are at influencing our behaviour. Facebook have publicly stated that they have the power to increase voter turnout. A logical corollary is therefore that Facebook can decide to suppress voter turnout. It is scandalous just how beholden we are to a powerful private company with no safeguards to protect democracy from manipulative technology before it is rolled out on the market.

A recent poll from the RSA reveals just how oblivious the public are to the increasing use of AI in society. It found only 32% of people are aware that AI is being used in a decision making context, dropping to 9% awareness of automated decision making in the criminal justice system. Without public knowledge there is no public debate and no public debate means no demand for public representatives to ensure ethical conduct and accountability.

As more powerful AI is rolled out across the world it is imperative that AI safety and ethics is elevated to the forefront of political discourse. If AI’s development and discussion continues to take place in the shadows of Silicon Valley and Shenzhen and the public feel they are losing control over their society, then we can expect in a similar vein to Brexit and Trump  a political backlash against the technological “elites”.

Jobs

The most immediate risk of AI sparking political upheaval is in automation replacing the human workforce. As capital begins to outstrip labour it will not only displace workers but exacerbate inequality between those who own the algorithms and those who don’t. Optimists argue that as AI moves into the realm of outperforming humans in cognitive tasks new creative jobs will replace them focusing on skills machines can’t yet replicate such as empathy.

Yet this will have to be a quick, transformation in the job market. A recent report from McKinsey estimates that up to 375 million workers around the world may need to switch jobs by 2030, 100 million of which will be in China alone. It is surely impractical and wishful thinking to suggest that factory workers in China or the 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States can simply re-skill and retrain as machine learning specialists or software engineers.

Even if they do there is no guarantee automation will not overtake them again by the time they have re-skilled. The risk for the future of work in the new AI economic paradigm is not so much about creating new jobs but creating new jobs that humans can outperform machines. If new jobs don’t proliferate and the utopian infrastructure of universal basic income, job retraining schemes and outlets for finding purpose in a life without work are not in place, a populist neo-luddite revolution will likely erupt to halt AI development in its tracks.

Widespread social disorder is a real risk if liberal democracy cannot address citizens concerns and keep pace with the speed of technological advance. In our current democratic framework changing and updating our laws takes time and different societal voices must be heard. In this context, by the time we have implemented a regulatory framework to safeguard society from a new application of AI it could have morphed ten times in the intervening period.

French President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged “this huge technological revolution is in fact a political revolution” and taken steps to carve a different vision than “the opaque privatization of AI or its potentially despotic usage” in the U.S and China respectively. France have launched a bold €1.5 billion initiative to become a leader in ethical AI research and innovation within a democratic sphere. Other democracies should follow this example and ensure democracy can steer the direction of AI rather than AI steering the direction of democracy.

Long Term Risks

Yet the long term risks of AI will transcend politics and economics. Today’s AI is known as narrow AI as it is capable of achieving specific narrow goals such as driving a car or playing a computer game. The long-term goal of most companies is to create general AI (AGI). Narrow AI may outperform us in specific tasks but general artificial intelligence would be able to outperform us in nearly every cognitive task.

One of the fundamental risks of AGI is that it will have the capacity to continue to improve itself independently along the spectrum of intelligence and advance beyond human control. If this were to occur and super-intelligent AI developed a goal that misaligned with our own it could spell the end for humanity. An analogy popularized by cosmologist and leading AI expert Max Tegmark is that of the relationship between humans and ants. Humans don’t hate ants but if put in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants.

Humanity’s destruction of the natural world is not rooted in malice but indifference to harming inferior intelligent beings as we set out to achieve our complex goals. In a similar scenario if AI was to develop a goal which differed to humanity’s we would likely end up like the ants.

In analysing the current conditions of our world its clear the risks of artificial intelligence outweigh the benefits. Based on the political and corporate incentives of the twenty first century it is more likely advances in AI will benefit a small class of people rather than the general population. It is more likely the speed of automation will outpace preparations for a life without work. And it is more likely that the race to build artificial general intelligence will overtake the race to debate why we are developing the technology at all. 

 

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Why Are There No Alternatives To Capitalism?

Zizek is one of the most profound and thought provoking commentators on modern issues. From Vulture Capitalism to cultural integration he attempts to tackles some of our world’s toughest problems.

In this piece he discusses alternatives to capitalism and the institutions that are in place to stifle any meaningful change or improvement. 

When The Truth Becomes Boring

“The People of this country.. have had enough of experts”

The stunning words of Conservative MP and poster boy of the Vote Leave campaign Michael Gove when pressed on why organizations and governments were bashing his promises of a prosperous Post-Brexit Britain. His comment, while dramatic was certainly not surprising. The entire mantra of the Leave Campaign was not about facts or data but about us, about you, the “decent” “hardworking” “ordinary” people taking back control from the big boy fat cats who have trodden and left you in the dirt.

The anger at the ruling class, once whipped into frenzy by Boris and Co was directed with pinpoint precision at the E.U “Turkey is joining the EU”, “£350M to Brussels every week”. These questionable soundbites gave vent for anger, flooded the discourse and resonated with people in a way explaining the benefits of Free Movement of Goods, EU subsidies and net benefit of migration never could. It was the first piece of concrete evidence that ‘just trust your gut’ politics has made it mainstream in the UK.

Historically, since the era of the enlightenment, we as humans have developed and relied upon safeguards to provide reference point by which we can somewhat objectively agree on what is true and accurate. These include schools, science, legal systems, the media etc.
And while not perfect or always correct, this truth-producing infrastructure provides solid ground from which public discourse and debate can flow from.

Yet, there is substantial evidence to suggest – exemplified by both the U.S general election & Brexit – that we are shifting to a kind of politics in which feelings and emotions trump facts and truth.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prizewinning psychologist and author of a bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, says we have a natural tendency to steer clear of facts that would force our brains to work harder. People will not want to investigate questionable sweeping statements or assertions if it requires lengthy contemplation and concentration to comprehend a complex issue.

Tyranny of the Anecdote

This poses a potentially deadly threat to societal cohesion. How can we solve society’s problems if we have no common truth-providing infrastructure from which to agree on?
For example, dealing with the problems of delays and overcrowding in the NHS. There has been debate over whether immigration or a severe lack of government funding is the primary reason for its misgivings. How do we know what the root cause of the problem is? Do we look at a report by the National Care Commission or listen to a story from our grandmother that she couldn’t get a GP appointment living in an area of high immigration?

There is growing number of pundits and politicians telling us to choose the latter. This is what American comedian, Stephen Colbert describes as believing things that “feel right” or things that “should be true”.

Donald Trump is the epitome of this, notoriously describing Climate Change as a hoax created by the Chinese. And it’s impossible to rebut this ridiculous argument when his followers either don’t care about the facts or believe in a conspiracy that the science is manufactured to serve the elites.

The Economist notes:

‘“A lot of people are saying…” is one of Donald Trump’s favourite phrases and questioning the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against him (“They would say that, wouldn’t they?”). And when the distance between what feels true and what the facts say grows too great, it can always be bridged with a handy conspiracy theory.’

#SocialMedia
And social media has become the bread to the conspiracy butter. While having many upsides and benefits, it has enabled people of like-mindedness to filter out news and media which does not align with their personal and political beliefs. One can follow news that never challenges but only reinforces their ideas about the world and tailors a narrative of events to suit its audience. Thus, once established the online community can be far more potent and important to people than their geographical one.

The priority of democratic nations therefore, must be in developing our institutions to cope and be trusted by all in the Internet age. Having a well informed public is unequivocally a common good and the issue must be treated with the sincerity it deserves.

Until now, politics, media and truth producing infrastructure have had to adapt to the structures of Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. Often being tangled in a malaise of memes and cat videos. Perhaps having a separation between the “social” and the “news” media would be an appropriate place to start?
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A Very Nuclear Future: Friend or Foe?

 by Sujitha Parshi

 

“So much potential in that boy. I’ll tell you now, in fifty years if he isn’t at the top of his class, there really is no hope for humanity.”

Atom had felt proud. With gleaming eyes and a gap-toothed smile, he’d looked at his teacher, grateful for the compliment. It was a kind of proud he’d least expected from someone as flustered as Mr. E, what with him looking too tired to care all the time (having to deal with rowdy toddlers and even more aggravating parents will do that to you). It was the kind of proud he hadn’t felt in…well, ever. He had made an effort that day, well-groomed with hair slicked back, polished black shoes and even so far as getting his mom to match his tie with his loafers. Looking back on all the energy he’d spent into looking his ‘best’, he felt he got back his effort’s worth. After all, Atom was nothing if not thorough.

Which is why, seventy-one years later, he found himself bruised and confused and smack in the middle of a paranoid quarter of humans who wanted nothing more than to bury all mentions of him deep, deep underground (sure, he had his moments of puberty-driven insanity, but who didn’t). It was disconcerting. Atom split up his soul for them.

“Then why? They have to know; I am their best hope.”

The answer, dear Atom, is quite complicated. Let me start off with a few motivational statements (as motivating as I can manage).

In this age, when safe, clean oxygen needs to be imported from the smallest corners of a rapidly depleting safe-space, protesting clean, efficient nuclear energy is an exercise in self-destruction. Where, like most, this paranoia arises from popular, or rather, populous opinion, we have arrived at a point beyond which return is uncertain. It’s time we shed the cover of blind belief and think of the best way forward.

Now, here’s your reply.

At the moment, the world is powered by little more than environmentally-cancerous coal and dwindling reserves of oil, natural gas and combined efforts of renewable sources (You come a lagging last!) While the case against nuclear energy gets worse as days pass, the reality lies in the small but forgotten art of deep thought.

What makes nuclear energy efficient and reliable? Why, nature, of course. During meiosis, the cells in our frame split to form more cells, and then split again, and keep splitting to fuel the reactor that is our body. Similarly, nuclear energy is generated by the fission of enriched uranium-235 atoms.

2.8 million kilograms of coal is used to do the work of 1 kilogram of enriched uranium-235. If that doesn’t talk about waste of resources, then I don’t know what does. Considering the rate at which we are heating the very core of our planet, it won’t be long now for us to reach another catastrophe even Noah can’t survive. It also happens to generate the least amount of waste.

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

The problem, dear Atom, is that you’ve had a troubled life (Yes, people care enough).

The problem here is containment. When talking about nuclear energy, the first ping in your brain probably was Chernobyl, or quite recently, Fukushima. It’s a valid concern. Why would you trust something so evidently damning? The answer lies within yourself. For the same reason you’d trust the puppy that bit you while she was teething; it was young and we didn’t know how to contain it safely. It’s a mistake we have learnt extensively from. All energy sources rose up the ranks through trial and error.

Fukushima was a one-time thing. While a high magnitude seismic event affects any energy (source) reactor, nuclear reactors in particular are somewhat safer, after the Fukushima leak, in comparison. For one, other energy plants experience instant reactions while nuclear is more gradual. After the leak, there have been so many regulations and precautions taken, sleeping easy next to a nuclear power plant is more possible than any other energy source. For one, most, if not all, nuclear power plants have an automatic shut-down process that has succeeded the manual shut-down. Secondly, several layers of cooling systems encompass a nuclear reactor to ensure the rapid cooling of the atomic pile. Last, and at the very least, it is all a controlled process. Rest assured, they know what they are doing. (Also, this is where the scary part of the ‘gradual’ is eliminated since there is little space for a leak.)

“Hmm, so does this mean the protests outside my house will stop? I really need to get saving (the world won’t pause any longer without permanent damage). I’ve had to wait seventy-one years too long.”

Not so fast. There’s a long way to go, Atom, a very long way.

You are an expensive, little brat. Thanks to the general dislike and less-than-optimal production and usage. But once you match, or even surpass, the level of your coal compatriot, we can get around to calling you ‘cheap’ like we ache to. Even then, popular mentality isn’t changed so easy. It needs to start at the grass-root, with explaining what-the-eff energy production and consumption entails without mainstream media bias. Remember, Atom, the more neutral you are in your approach, the better you can expect people to think for themselves.

Anyway, that’s just some of the things that make you special. Don’t let it get to your head, though.

Besides, you are seventy-one years old, barely out of your diapers. Live a little (without killing and maiming others, of course). You can expect more than your share of presidential duties in the very Nuclear future.

“Yeah, yeah, you say that like it’s so easy. We’re living in 2016! For now, I have more than my share of activists to dodge.”

 

Sujitha is an Indian Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer to The Conversation Room.

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://pompeiiresurget.wordpress.com/

Battle of the Ages: Stuck in Reverse

Author: Revels

In Pakistan, one’s life revolves around what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. Growing up, a person is expected to agree to whatever he is being told, to comply with whatever decisions are made for him, to silently nod at what the ‘elders’ of the family think is right.

Before I start, I’d like to make clear that though the situation is improving somewhat, we still live in a way more primitive world than we should. The main problem we need to tackle is for our older generation to listen and understand the younger one.

This system has been in place for as long as anyone can remember and only a very small group of people have had the courage to speak out, despite some of them meeting horrific ends. Putting your foot down in the face of such opposition as your family is a very difficult thing to do in Pakistan where the majority of one’s social life consists of family, including cousins, aunts, uncles and the whole bunch.

People are somewhat used to living like this, but in this day and age, where one has access to what happens over the entire globe, our younger generations need their own space and demand the right to their own opinions. Where lots of families have been understanding and have recognized what is called for, most have been unyielding, with egos overcoming common sense. Children have resorted to sneaky ways to accomplish what they couldn’t have had they discussed it with their families.

Being an Islamic Republic, at least by name, Islamic values and morals are given their due importance. Nothing is forced, things like the hijab are not made compulsory as they are in some other Islamic states, but there are a couple of issues which, traditions combined with religious obligations, have become a social norm, and sadly, an issue of ‘honour’.

For instance, segregation is preferred. The strange thing about the way it is observed is that it builds to the frustration of the youth, questions like why can’t I talk to him? or what is so bad about hanging around with a girl? pop up in their minds as the segregation followed in Pakistan is not absolute separation. Girls and boys will share the same classrooms, the same buses, the same cafeterias, but they just will not talk to each other. This introduces a rather awkward situation because if people do eventually break that social taboo and talk to the other gender, the older generations immediately flash them the red light.

This, naturally, leads to an irritation invisible to the ‘elders’ who make all the ‘right’ decisions for the youth.

With the rising LGBT support around the world, Pakistan has seen its own LGBT cases number higher than ever before. The funny thing is, our elder generation will swear to this not being the case, as religiously and culturally it is not accepted.

But where there’s a will there’s a way, right? Men and women will marry whoever the family approves of, because marriage is another decision that only the ‘elders’ can make, though they try to make sure the people they are being betrothed to are like them. As a result, we have couples who live heterosexual lives in public but homosexual ones in reality, and this double minded society of people can only lead itself to disturbing consequences.

The question that we face is, though, will the obvious oblivion really solve what issues we have? Are we not living in a rather hypocritical little bubble? We’ve advanced from primitive thinking but we haven’t let go of our egotistical supposition that all is well as long as the elders are obeyed. Our elders try to implement religion to enforce what they believe is the definition of honour; they do not speak of what is religiously right or wrong, and do not listen when the youth tries to tell them about it. So do they really know what is best?

Our society, unfortunately, is still quite patriarchal, with men usually exploiting religion to their advantage, forgetting the whole package. Strangely, the same men who rule the household will turn into the very perverted souls that they try to keep their women ‘safe’ from when they walk out into the street. Is that really fair? A woman, no matter what she looks like, will be subjected to stares and cat calls. This isn’t even anything startling anymore because everyone is so accustomed to it.

Why be accustomed to something so gross?

Now the plot twist thickens, though. These same women will go home and still defend their sons and give them a preferential treatment! They will pray for their brothers, spoil them in the littlest ways and shower them with praise and love.

Yes, our world makes very little sense.

How do we get our elders to listen and sympathise? To think beyond what they feel is good and a happy solution to what is otherwise unacceptable to their, at times, absurd social standards? To be honest, I’m not so sure how myself, but to speak out in hopes of catching their attention might be one way. Philosophies ingrained over lifetimes are hard to shake, but bringing acceptability and acknowledgement is what is required at this moment. How long will it take? We have to try and find out.

Revels is a Pakistani student, blogger & contributing writer at The Conversation Room. 

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://identity17.wordpress.com/

Do Millennials Confuse “Clicktivism” with Real Activism?

In this short clip of Intelligence Squared’s debate “Millennials Don’t Stand A Chance” the speakers discuss the modern generations attitude to activism.

If Martin Luther King was marching in 2016 would thousands of people click attending on Facebook only not to show up on the day? Has the Millennial generation become more naive by social media or do they have the same traits as previous generations only magnified and documented in an online medium?

Why You Must Be Made To Feel Uncomfortable

In this short clip for Big Think comedy genius John Cleese, most famous for writing and starring in the BBC’s Monty Python describes the demise of journalism and tyranny of “being offended” culture in suggesting that people should be shielded from questions or ideas contrary to their own.

Cleese speaks of the danger of a new generation growing up believing they should never feel offended or have their values questioned. However, he believes it is only by constantly challenging authority & mainstream thought that society achieves equitable nuance and grows constructively toward justice, otherwise unchallenged opinion becomes regressive, tedious dogma.