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AI Lessons from TEDxWomen

December 21, 2018 Leave a comment

2018 has been dominated by relentless news coverage on the topic of Artificial Intelligence or AI, (perhaps even moreso than Blockchain – another hot topic du jour), which in turn proclaim doom or nirvana depending with whom you speak, and when. Why, I attended a recent TEDxWomen event at Salesforce Tower in London where I helped facilitate discussions about Robotics and AI, and I must say that given the level of interest and diversity of the group in attendance, it quickly became clear to me that ordinary people’s expectations, perceptions and conversations about the progress of AI needs feeding back to the people and processes that develop it. 

The topics under discussion originate from a couple of TEDWomen talks about: Robotics and developing empathetic AI co-pilot. The first talk featured Ayana Howard’s view that robots can be good yet also biased, sexist and racist, which could make them doubly dangerous given the level of trust and emotional attachment we humans sometimes place in robots. The second talk by Nivruti Rai, focused on tapping into our collective intelligence via a personal agent or ‘co-pilot’ which can provide constant guidance to its human subject, based on ‘wisdom-of-the-crowd’ style insight and thus influencing the users every decision e.g.: choice of meal, traffic navigation, and lifestyle choices, including choice of dates or marriage partners!       

Given the degree of emergent influence and impact on individuals, business and society, it is not surprising the level of trepidation people have about the unknown / unintended consequence of AI and its myriad applications. However, this group surprised me with their pragmatic and optimistic take on these developments, which are summarized in the following top 3 messages we played back to other attendees, as follows:

1. We must Embrace AI – AI is here to stay, therefore embrace it with certain knowledge that controlling AI might not be perfect, but as humans we can adapt and course correct as necessary

2. Absolutely need to address underlying bias issues – Must ensure those that work on AI also represent the diversity of humanity, particularly among typically under-represented minorities 

3. Emerging trends can be startling – Some countries have decided to sanction dating or marriage to AI, perhaps a harbinger of a likely future with evolved AI systems

In conclusion, it is heartening to know that people wish to be actively involved in the evolution and application of AI, especially where it impacts and influences their lives – i.e. before, rather than after the fact. Also, there is reasonable optimism and excitement, laced with trust in our human ability to adapt to the level of change it will undoubtedly manifest on society and people alike. After all, what is the point in having to receive last rites each time you engage an autonomous vehicle, or take advice from your trusted co-pilot?