5 Min Read

We Need to Talk About AI

We’re leaving the realms of science fiction and entering the era of science fact.

Suddenly, artificial intelligence is all around us. Everyone is marvelling at this new and wondrous technology, this harbinger of an uncertain future where humankind is either freed from the drudgery of menial tasks or made obsolete by the very machines we’ve created in our likeness. This so called “artificial” intelligence is poised to fundamentally change the world around us, and it will doubtlessly do so in ways we could never fully predict. Folks are saying we’re entering the next industrial revolution, a time the World Economic Forum has described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems”. We’re leaving the realms of science fiction and entering the era of science fact: spawning entirely new capabilities for both man and machine as technology becomes further embedded in society, and, indeed, even in our own bodies.

But if we’re to remain masters of our own destiny, if we’re to design intelligence that works for humankind rather than simply replacing it, we need to take control of the narrative before it takes control of us. We need to look at AI not as simply a mechanism to grease the cogs of productivity, but as an innovation that — as in previous industrial revolutions — has the potential to lift humanity into a higher realm of prosperity, happiness, and peace.

What’s in a name?

There has been always something unnerving about the artificial. The textbook definition of “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural” immediately places the artificial in subservience to the natural: the former is merely an imitation of the latter. This is why “artificial” intelligence is at once a loaded and limiting concept.

The truth is, there are certain things humans do that machines are just not capable of (yet), and there is a whole host of capabilities that machines are perfectly suited for over and above humans. Machines don’t feel, they aren’t able to grasp the effect of emotion on decision making, they can’t match the impulsive nature of the human spirit; yet, they never tire, they have the ability to process vast quantities of information in a short amount of time, and they can identify patterns and connections the human brain would never be able to discern. In this way, we should be designing for the collective intelligence of man and machine, an intelligence that is an enhancement of humanity’s potential rather than merely an imitation of it. Were AI to stand for anything, it should stand for Augmented Intelligence, where the machine works in tandem with the human, not for, not against.

It’s all about people

It’s no surprise AI is becoming the darling of corporate operational strategies: big companies will always want to embrace ways to streamline, optimise, and cut the cost of human labour, and AI (especially in the form of simple chatbots) is an easy way to replace an expensive human with a much cheaper-to-run technology.

But if we let the story unfold in this way, if the tale is merely to improve the efficiency of the machine, we’ve missed the greatest opportunity in our lifetime to improve the lives of those around us. Likewise, if we continue to view data as a method to ever better predict human behaviour, as a blunt tool for modelling types of people but not the people themselves, we will continue to design systems focused on a personalised experience, and we’ll never be able to create truly unique, individualised experiences with the power to elevate rather than merely assist. This will be an industrial evolution, not a revolution. The success of AI will be determined by how firmly we can keep hold of our focus on the real star of the show: the human being, and how the two systems, living and not yet alive, work with synergy and in harmony.

An individualised AI

At Constellation AI, the core of our mission is to improve lives. We’re building breakthrough AI technology that uses natural human language to create a highly individualised profile of a human being.

We see a future where this individualised profile could be plugged into any kind of experience to create something unique to you. Imagine a playlist driven purely by your own personal dataset; imagine a tv programme constructed in real time for you, using your tastes, your emotions, your particular need at any particular time for a piece of content to lift you up or level you out.

A future where technology works alongside humanity to enable the best of each is ours to design. But we must change the dialogue, we must avoid the glittering temptation to enslave machines (and enslave ourselves) by focusing on the purely functional applications of AI. Sure, we can save time and money in a call centre, but if we can augment rather than imitate human intelligence, we are truly standing at the gates of a brave new world.

By Christopher Lee Ball — VP of Research and Design, Constellation AI.

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Christopher has designed experiences for Thompson Reuters, BBC, Samsung, Volvo, BNP Paribas and Digitas; working on notable projects such as BBC iPlayer and the Virgin Atlantic website. He has led teams to win multiple awards; is on the awards panel for D&AD; and teaches user experience design at the D&AD, Hyper Island, and the University of Graz. Watch Christopher talk about creativity in the age of the 4th industrial revolution here.