Last week I attended the NYEdTech panel Artificial Intelligence for Learning: Is It Human Enough? — an attempt to assuage fears that one day frighteningly soon we will all be catering hand-and-foot to robot overlords (and also that robots are taking our jobs; unclear which elicits more concern).
The discussion opened with a scene from I, Robot, a science-fiction film that casts an AI-bot-gone-rogue as its primary antagonist. The three panelists were very quick to assert that artificial intelligence is at this point in time nowhere near that advanced (so no need to worry about the robo-apocolypse just yet, folks!). Instead, our more immediate focus should be on how we can cultivate a workforce that readily adapts to a world where AI is commonplace. As one member of the audience put it, "the computer scientists of tomorrow could be the coal miners of today" — so what ought we teach beyond or in addition to "hard skills" that will enable people to contribute to and thrive within future iterations of our society?
Have No Fear
The panelists cited several reasons for why we shouldn't be so intimidated by the growing prevalence of AI:
- It's taken humans thousands of years to get to where we are now, so it's unlikely that artificial intelligence will take over the world overnight.
- Machines only have a 5% understanding of how humans function (because "humans don't even understand themselves," said Amir Banifatemi, Lead at IBM Watson AI XPRIZE).
- Artificial intelligence is limited to carrying out very specific tasks (and global takeovers require wide-ranging skill sets, I imagine).
- Humans are good at socioemotional reasoning, while AI is not (but, actually though?).
AI is Here
The panelists also shared with us what they considered could be positive, thoughtful applications of AI:
- Facilitating skill-building in the workplace. Strengthening human networks.
- Making education accessible to all children.
- Excavating and interpreting our now-vast pools of data.
Finally, panelist and CEO at EruditeAI, Kathy Benemann, corroborated my sense that AI has become something of a buzzword among techies and investors. In Silicon Valley, she hears people throw the term "AI" around without taking a critical look at the relationship between technology and its real-life applications. For me, this meant: Artificial intelligence is ultimately just a means to an end. Why give the term so much value when it's what we end up doing with it that will be worthwhile/disastrous?
If you're interested in learning more about the development of smart-but-safe AI, here's a cool TED talk by UC Berkley professor Stuart Russel.
And, for fun, here's an article on how AI will be giving the TED talks of the future (They really are taking our jobs, aren't they?).