Considerations for designing our new artificially intelligent world

There are endless possibilities that arise as a reaction to artificial intelligence. The technology is already in a stage of large-scale development, and is only expanding. Experts from all over the world have given their perspectives on the future of AI. They make us think about the now. It is the choices that are being made now – by ourselves, by companies and by governments – that will determine our future.

Master, slave or partner? The future of the relationship between man and machine.

Questioning AI

We will begin with the broader aspect of us and them. The current and future relationships between human and machine.

The things we were once talking about as the future are happening today, right now. AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines. As these AI powered machines become more intelligent, it raises questions of their ability to deal with moral judgement. Or how to make them do the right thing instead of the wrong thing. The issue with this, however, is what defines right and wrong?

In many respects, computers are already more intelligent that us. Although there are many positive possibilities that AI can bring us, we need to consider the potential negative possibilities and unintended consequences.

Over reliance

Current machines, using a common example like the smartphone, are already taking over our lives in some form or another. Young people are always on their smartphones. People are now making life decisions, from which new TV to buy to who to marry on these devices. Now that AI has been thrown into the mix, the concern surrounds what the device’s motivation is. The technology could, and in some ways already is, having huge impacts on the ways our lives play out.

An increase in AI, machine learning and robots naturally implies a decrease in human participation. But abdicating our decisions to machines for ease and convenience could create a range of unintended consequences. Things that were once pleasures become the new normal, and hence lose their appeal. Spontaneity and creativity may become a smaller part of our lives, as algorithms do not make the same random connections the brain does.

This then sparks the idea to build a machine that can emit moral qualities. Emotions even. But how do we build a conscious machine? And furthermore, how do we control a conscious machine?

In the long run machines could have the ability to replace everything we are doing from a functional perspective. They could carry on our civilization. Provide us with food security, housing and entertainment. But that in itself would be a huge failure, as it says human beings have little meaningful function or value. Our sole reason for existence is just to be fed, watered and entertained. This not a very interesting life!

Love and sex

It is clear that AI can impact our lives significantly. However, specifically, there is a large intersection with the expanding technology in the realm of love and sex.

It is notably concerning that we spend an increasing amount of time on devices, as opposed to forming real personal relationships. We are beginning to live our lives through technology. We meet people online, then chat to them online, and form strong bonds with them online. So it’s not that much of a leap to think we could be doing that but with AI on the other end instead of a person.

To a point, this is already happening. An application developed by Konami has captured the hearts of many Japanese bachelors. LovePlus is an application that simulates the experience of a real relationship. Users can choose a character to date (either Rinko, Manaka, Nene, or all of them, if you swing that way) and live out a relationship with them.

So many questions arise. Is love with a machine a different kind of thing? Is it sustainable? Or will it isolate humans from one another? One answer to this is it doesn’t matter who, or what humans love. But it matters if our sense of community and real connections are destroyed in the process.

Machines to replace love?

There are more and more machines being created in the sphere of love and lust. Sleeping bags that can cuddle you, pillows that can get you aroused, virtual reality experiences where you feel real emotion. But what happens when it is more compelling to interact with another machine than it is with a human?

We already have a desire for fiction as a way to escape reality – think books, movies, video games. However we as a society still need to be able to solve real life problems, instead of running away to fiction. Otherwise it is not sustainable living.

Consider how much time you spend with physical face-to-face contact, as opposed to though interactions that are mediated by machines. Is this affecting your relationships? Your well being? Do you go out more? Or less? There are visions of futures with people who have little to no interaction with other beings… Would people be happy?

So many questions. And there is no real way of knowing, is there? Unless people go ahead and give it a go. But even then this concept could have severe impacts on humanity. If the future is still a predominantly capitalist system, then motivations will surround profit, marketing, sales and brand preference. The impacts on humans and human interaction are unlikely to feature in their annual performance bonus criteria. Goodbye society as we know it.

Work and life

Another primary concern with AI is how it will fit in with our jobs. Are we going to get ousted? Will we work hand in hand with machines? Will we retain seniority? Again, it’s hard to know. What is going to be difficult is how we prepare for a future that looks nothing like our past.

The future of occupations: the jobs dilemma. The most likely outcome is that it’ll become increasingly difficult to find meaningful and sustainable employment when machines will begin to take over most of what we consider ‘work’. Take building a house as an example. The majority of the cost is in the labour of building it and the time it takes. With a team of highly skilled robots it could take a week and a half and cost less that the price of a car.

Society is facing a big challenge here: if you start to decouple people’s economic existence from having a job, we then have to think about how we can make their existence sustainable and bearable so there is still quality to their life.

On the other hand, there could be a huge number of new jobs we couldn’t even begin to imagine right now.

Education for who?

Another issue is with the current education system. It is outdated and stuck in the age of the industrial revolution. It prepares people for working in roles which, in many cases, are going to disappear. One train of thought is to focus education on preparing people for a meaningful existence instead.

The root of what could save us from the negative possibilities of AI is the ways in which people can help and complement each other. For example meaningful existence could be increasing time spent with others: adding value to each others lives to create meaning and increase well being. This could then be the central focus of education.

Another interesting aspect to ponder, is will new children ever learn to drive? Quite possibly in 15 or so years time there won’t be a need for this to happen. Automated vehicles may even become part of policy in some cities, where it may be illegal to drive yourself. Yep, it’s all a lot to think about.

Health and death

AI in the health industry is probably where it can be the most beneficial. There are already studies showing machines detecting melanoma more accurately than certified dermatologists. AI experts expect the future to involve a significant decentralization of health systems.

A future scenario could involve home service robots. For example, if you had a fall at home and dislocated your shoulder, the house-bot could scan it, diagnose it and put it back into place before continuing with its vacuuming.

However, a complete decentralization isn’t feasible. We would still need human doctors in order to make judgement calls in severe medical cases.

As well as service bots, there is the likelihood of other little AI knick knacks that can pick up diseases before symptoms are even showing. Let’s take an AI toothbrush (which is already a thing, by the way) as an example. You’re brushing your teeth in the morning when you get a message: “the levels of cortisol in your saliva are slightly elevated, let’s keep an eye on it”, simply from brushing your teeth. These sorts of development possibilities have huge potentials in terms of disease reduction and life expectancy.

Weapons and warfare

This is a complete U-turn from increased health prospects. Weapons have already come pretty far without the help of AI. A weapon that can locate, choose and attack a human target already exists. With advancements in artificial intelligent technology, what will happen is that us humans won’t be involved in the decision making processes of weapon usage.

For example, Israel has developed a fully autonomous missile called the Harop Missile, that given a location and identification criteria it will fly around until is sees something that meets the requirements and destroy it. The U.S., Russia, the U.K., South Korea and China are all in the process of developing their own autonomous weapons.

Nuclear is currently the most powerful weapons system we know. They have the power to cause absolute devastation – think Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, the knowledge of these ramifications keeps people in power hesitant to use such weapons, and gives the world a sort of stability. Take the Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK and Khrushchev essentially had a back and forth of “who’s crazy enough to actually do it” before eventually both retracting their nuclear weapons to avoid a third world war.

Now try and rethink this scenario with machines making the decisions. They don’t have empathy, instinct or foresight, just decision rules based on an algorithm. So if they were making the calls during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is quite possible we might not be here today.

The future of conflict

In a future warfare scenario you could have thousands of automated weapons and only three men in a truck controlling their locations. In this sense, AI is a weapon of mass destruction. You could simply kill all the males between 15 and 60 and then you have an intact city or country with only the perceived ‘non threatening’ part of the population left.

Another scenario puts military pilots out of business. Fighter planes, for example, are lighter, faster and have no limit to acceleration without humans in them. Pilots black out after certain heights and accelerations, and their reaction time is far slower than machines. In a warfare scenario human pilots wouldn’t stand a chance.

The possibilities are quite scary – and there is an urgency to control this before it’s too late. The international community needs to prohibit the use of such weapons otherwise who knows what way the world will go.

In the end…

From automated vehicles and virtual lovers to automated weapons of mass destruction, artificial intelligence is and will continue to infiltrate our lives from every angle. The key thing to think about, however, is our own hand in the game of advancing technology. The future of humanity is at stake, and if we are going to lose the game, we are not going to lose technology, we are going to lose ourselves.

We are our biggest problem. And if we understand that well, then it becomes less of a problem and more of an opportunity.


Some of these ideas have been based on those of AI experts John Markoff, Joanna Bryson, Stuart Russell and Paul Verschure.