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AI is killing choice and chance

Which means changing what it means to be human.
Image: Shutterstock

The history of humans’ use of technology has always been a history of coevolution. Philosophers from Rousseau to Heidegger to Carl Schmitt have argued that technology is never a neutral tool for achieving human ends. Technological innovations – from the most rudimentary to the most sophisticated – reshape people as they use these innovations to control their environment. Artificial intelligence is a new and powerful tool, and it, too, is altering humanity.

Writing and, later, the printing press made it possible to carefully record history and easily disseminate knowledge, but it eliminated centuries-old traditions of oral storytelling. Ubiquitous digital and phone cameras have changed how people experience and perceive events. Widely available GPS systems have meant that drivers rarely get lost, but a reliance on them has also atrophied their native capacity to orient themselves.

AI is no different. While the term AI conjures up anxieties about killer robots, unemployment or a massive surveillance state, there are other, deeper implications. As AI increasingly shapes the human experience, how does this change what it means to be human? Central to the problem is a person’s capacity to make choices, particularly judgments that have moral implications.

Taking over our lives?

AI is being used for wide and rapidly expanding purposes. It is being used to predict which television shows or movies individuals will want to watch based on past preferences and to make decisions about who can borrow money based on past performance and other proxies for the likelihood of repayment. It’s being used to detect fraudulent commercial transactions and identify malignant tumors. It’s being used for hiring and firing decisions in large chain stores and public school districts. And it’s being used in law enforcement – from assessing the chances of recidivism, to police force allocation, to the facial identification of criminal suspects.

Many of these applications present relatively obvious risks. If the algorithms used for loan approval, facial recognition and hiring are trained on biased data, thereby building biased models, they tend to perpetuate existing prejudices and inequalities. But researchers believe that cleaned-up data and more rigorous modeling would reduce and potentially eliminate algorithmic bias. It’s even possible that AI could make predictions that are fairer and less biased than those made by humans.

Where algorithmic bias is a technical issue that can be solved, at least in theory, the question of how AI alters the abilities that define human beings is more fundamental. We have been studying this question for the last few years as part of the Artificial Intelligence and Experience project at UMass Boston’s Applied Ethics Center.

Losing the ability to choose

Aristotle argued that the capacity for making practical judgments depends on regularly making them – on habit and practice. We see the emergence of machines as substitute judges in a variety of workaday contexts as a potential threat to people learning how to effectively exercise judgment themselves.

In the workplace, managers routinely make decisions about whom to hire or fire, which loan to approve and where to send police officers, to name a few. These are areas where algorithmic prescription is replacing human judgment, and so people who might have had the chance to develop practical judgment in these areas no longer will.

Recommendation engines, which are increasingly prevalent intermediaries in people’s consumption of culture, may serve to constrain choice and minimize serendipity. By presenting consumers with algorithmically curated choices of what to watch, read, stream and visit next, companies are replacing human taste with machine taste. In one sense, this is helpful. After all, the machines can survey a wider range of choices than any individual is likely to have the time or energy to do on her own.

A television remote control with button labelled Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and Sling
Services that make recommendations based on preferences, like which movies to watch, reduce chance discoveries.
Image: AP Photo/Jenny Kane

At the same time, though, this curation is optimizing for what people are likely to prefer based on what they’ve preferred in the past. We think there is some risk that people’s options will be constrained by their pasts in a new and unanticipated way – a generalisation of the “echo chamber” people are already seeing in social media.

The advent of potent predictive technologies seems likely to affect basic political institutions, too. The idea of human rights, for example, is grounded in the insight that human beings are majestic, unpredictable, self-governing agents whose freedoms must be guaranteed by the state. If humanity – or at least its decision-making – becomes more predictable, will political institutions continue to protect human rights in the same way?

Utterly predictable

As machine learning algorithms, a common form of “narrow” or “weak” AI, improve and as they train on more extensive data sets, larger parts of everyday life are likely to become utterly predictable. The predictions are going to get better and better, and they will ultimately make common experiences more efficient and more pleasant.

Algorithms could soon – if they don’t already – have a better idea about which show you’d like to watch next and which job candidate you should hire than you do. One day, humans may even find a way machines can make these decisions without some of the biases that humans typically display.

But to the extent that unpredictability is part of how people understand themselves and part of what people like about themselves, humanity is in the process of losing something significant. As they become more and more predictable, the creatures inhabiting the increasingly AI-mediated world will become less and less like us.The Conversation

Nir Eisikovits, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director, Applied Ethics Center, University of Massachusetts Boston and Dan Feldman, Senior Research Fellow, Applied Ethics Center, University of Massachusetts Boston

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Best for the job hunt. Leaders, political or business implementing A.I as support system will have to cope with problems.
Software have to be written for areas they call grey, so computers will understand. Think Carlos Ghosn of Nissan. Political the same. Human voting results and AI approval. Think Trump. For the working class, A.I computer and software are working with no problems whatsoever. Up to secret levels A.I computers having no clue it exist. Above this level humans of the Bilderberg kind and others decide. Making happy politicians all over the globe, covid or not. To obey is the only requirement.

Apparently the algorithms that medical aid companies use to detect fraud, are racist…..

AI will not alter human behaviour or thought patterns. Most people do not have a mind of their own to begin with. They are sheep, following sheep. AI will only make this process more efficient. If you do not have a plan of your own, you are part of someone else’s plan.

Totally agree with the concerns of the authors.

We have opened a Pandora’s Box here, and there is no putting the genie back into the bottle.

I have long argued that the winner of evolutionary competitiveness is determined by the superior intelligence amongst the competing species, which superiority provides the winning advantage in better adapting to a changing environment.

So AI conceived by clever programmers will naturally be superior to the equivalent produced by not-so-clever programmers.

This outcome has really scary consequences for future international conflict!

Also of grave concern, the logical outcome of a rapidly-evolving, self-perfecting AI intelligence is that ultimately it will reach such a formidable complexity that humans will not be able to fathom what – and why – it is thinking anymore. And will then accede to the decisions reached by AI purely on the basis that it has developed an excellent track record of having consistently reached “the best” decision every time previously.

At this point, humanity will have lost control, and it is then only a matter of time before the AI mind will reach a decision that is dangerous to future humanity.

The problem is that such a decision will be reached VERY QUICKLY, and human understanding of this outcome will be too slow to understand what is happening, and slower even to react in time.

This scary eventuality is MUCH closer than we would like to think!

End of comments.

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