I listened to an interview with the philosopher and historian Yuval Noah Harari on YouTube, titled “Hack Yourself.” He was describing the possible future impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on humanity. AI will replace more and more careers and human beings will struggle to reinvent themselves to fit into a narrower and narrower scope of occupations that will also soon be invaded by AI. Human beings have been taught to measure their worth by their career and the money received for their performance. When there is no work, we can no longer make that association. This paradigm has been in trouble for some time with people not seeing the returns they expect from the work they do. COVID-19 is also forcing American workers to face this question of value. How do we adjust without becoming despondent and depressed? Perhaps we can use AI to figure out what to do with all the unemployable humans.
We are still in the early stages of discovering sophisticated technological tools for data collection and analysis, the keys to building successful algorithms to power AI. It is extremely exciting to see what can be accomplished, and sometimes our zeal can blind us to the potential abuses of our discoveries.
Facebook comes to mind with their early motto of “move fast and break things.” The company’s mission is to connect the world. Now, after 17 years of doing business the company has come under public scrutiny for its cavalier treatment of user’s data, selling it to third party developers without the permission and knowledge of the user. Facebook collects dollars. The user gets to use the platform for free and give the company more data to sell. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, admits “we did not take a broad enough view of our responsibility and it was my mistake,” when questioned by the United States Congress on April 2018. His mistake resulted in disrupting democracy around the world and the US Presidential Election in 2016.
If we do not effectively deal with privacy issues and the threat of the abuse of personal data now, if we can’t reign in companies like Facebook and Google, then we don’t stand much of a chance against the advance of AI. The algorithms that create AI rely upon the collection and analysis of data gathered on individual human beings, both historically and bio-metrically, to define who we are and respond appropriately. I smell more trouble brewing if we are not able to solve the problem of privacy in a way that is beneficial for the user and the corporate entity. We need to review our one-sided love affair with tech. It is hard not give free reign to something we feel can solve all our problems and appears to make our lives easier. Tech is also the darling of Wall Street and America has an even stronger love affair with wealth. We must be willing to take a broad enough view of our responsibility before saying yes to these technologies. We cannot afford to wait until they are fully implemented. It is harder to slow down a train that has gained momentum.