What Artificial Intelligence can Teach Us
Most of us understand that artificial intelligence (AI) offers opportunities for productivity improvements in the form of speed, automation, standardized actions and responses, plus the opportunity for continuous improvements via machine learning. These opportunities are enabled by data inputs that are analyzed and processed through AI algorithms that execute a desired decision and action. For all of the great capabilities and benefits that AI can provide, there is also a potential dark side. AI solutions can easily codify our prejudices, bias, gender stereotypes and promote injustices intentionally or unintentionally. This threat, as real and serious as it is, can also be seen as an opportunity to evaluate who we are, what we want the future to look like, and then codify a better tomorrow.
Let’s first take a look at what makes us human. When we interact with other humans, we access our accumulated life experiences, ambitions, education, training, character and personality traits, ethics, cultural norms, religious paradigms and morals to think through problems and challenges and to communicate our feelings and ideas. Our human qualities help us be great salespeople, teachers, writers, caregivers, programmers, police officers, doctors, inventors, carpenters, plumbers, managers, etc. We bring our human skills and attributes with us to work. Our employers don’t expect to have to invest in all of these attributes before we can be productive. AI solutions, on the other hand, can’t on their own bring these skills to the job. AI is just code and must be programmed by humans to be productive and successful, and to treat humans humanely.
In more complex environments like sales and customer service, human participants often depend on their personal backgrounds and understandings to successfully communicate and resolve difficult situations to everybody’s’ satisfaction. How do we program these human qualities into AI? How do we add feelings of empathy, compassion, love, moral obligations, kindness, fairness, equality and justice to our AI solutions? We have a lot of thinking to do here. We expect these qualities to be present in even the most junior of call center workers, yet these basic qualities are absent from AI solutions unless we add them.
In order to implement an AI solution that can successfully interact independently with humans, it’s going to take process experts and researchers from a multitude of disciplines to think through and configure human traits into AI solutions. It’s going to take a lot of soul searching to identify and codify how we want AI systems to react and respond. We will need to monitor for unintended consequences that will arise as perfectly logical systems produce results that are unfair, unjust and don’t respect human rights. It’s up to us to create our future, and our future will be an exaggerated version of ourselves today. This process, however, will teach us a great deal more about ourselves and our own humanity.