Flat White

If we outsource our thinking to artificial intelligence will we also surrender responsibility – and more?

21 August 2020

4:15 PM

21 August 2020

4:15 PM

Artificial Intelligence can’t come soon enough, especially if one considers the behaviour of some people in the middle of the Covid pandemic. Examples abound, so no need to repeat them here. Some would argue that AI has already arrived but, in reality, it is still only in the early adolescent stages.  

It is difficult for the person in the street to grasp exactly what is AI. In its present form perhaps we laypersons may describe it as “fancy physics” and/or “magic maths”. The scientists would probably laugh at that but the ordinary folk need to have some kind of concept in mind, for the arrival of artificial intelligence is set to become the most influential event in the history of humans and some say perhaps the last. At the very least we should have some contribution to its formation. 

The sixteenth-century English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon is attributed with the saying, “knowledge is power”. It seems that a reasonable inference would be, that the greater the gap between knowledge and the lack of knowledge, then the greater is the power. Even in its adolescence, AI presents a huge knowledge gap between the science and its applications, a gap that is widening at an almost exponential rate. Intelligence, evolving at warp speed, should be the cause of great concern. Younger generations embrace technology with gusto, they have not experienced life without it and hence are complacent and unquestioning. 

So where does this knowledge and power (knopo) reside? Primarily in the universities, institutes and organisations with a profit motive. 

Precisely the same places that brought us “political correctness” and then “climate change”. Are we going to lay down and allow ourselves to be steam-rolled for a third time in 50 years? 

AI offers enormous potential for good but as is often the case, the opposite is also true.  

Already there are numerous examples where responsibility is being handed over to technology in a kind of “set and forget” mentality. Many of us just can’t get through the day without our little AI companion, the smartphone. How far should this go?  

The diminution of responsibility is evident from a perusal of coroner’s reports. Typically, the relevant minister will say that legislation will be introduced to ensure that a particular event will never happen again, when the real issue is, that it should never have occurred in the first place.   

Sporting bodies are increasingly employing technology that attempts to relieve referees and umpires of responsibility, often resulting in even more controversy than otherwise would have been the case. 

Responsibility, morality and ethics are the very essence of humanity and as such, form the cornerstone of our society; AI has the potential to reshape them forever. For example, without responsibility, morality will become obsolete.  

Who should oversee this “human changing” event? Politics is too slow and mostly reactive. The “knopo” cohort should not claim exclusive rights and traditional church attendances are on the wane and as a result, they are much less able to inform or influence populations in matters such as this. 

It may be time to consider the establishment of responsibility as an official subject in school curriculums.  

Perhaps as a starting point, organisations such as The Institute of Public Affairs and the like could elevate the discussion in order to make the general population more informed as to where all the whizz-bang technology is leading.  

After all, they are the largest group in society and in many ways will be the most affected and so must surely have a say. 

Peter Scammel blogs at Dinosaur Diary, where this piece also appears. 


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