Here's your AI reality checkJul 24, 2023 03:15PM ● By Adam Cochran
Last month, I introduced a basic definition and description of modern artificial intelligence (AI).
The term is only vaguely defined and there is no baseline for when something becomes artificially intelligent. One could argue that all computers are artificially intelligent, but the difference between your old pocket calculator and modern AI is significant.
AI is more than just faster calculating, more storage and more accurate sorting. AI is a combination of hardware and software that work together to allow a computer to predict, anticipate and “learn” from each function it performs.
For example, a computer can be programmed to recognize all of the details that make up a face and even arrange face parts into a believable picture of a face. But AI takes that further. Once it recognizes what eyes look like, it will analyze all of the eyes in the database so that it can create its own realistic eyes. If it does this with each part of a face and then analyzes and recognizes patterns in facial features, skin tones, bone structure and various contortions and positions of each part, the computer can “intelligently” build a realistic image of a face that doesn’t exist in the offline world.
Whenever there is a new disruptive innovation, especially one that evokes doom and gloom predictions for the future of civilization or humankind, I like to ponder the positives and sort out the reality from the myths.
When innovation disrupts civilization, it’s important to consider how that aspect of civilization came to be and whether there are reasons to consider whether that particular facet is due for a shift.
Just as the internet and social media devastated traditional media, retail and the postal system, AI will devastate almost any field where humans perform routine tasks or perform work that relies on formulas, precise workflows or rote memory.
If the purpose of a job or an industry is to create variants of something that already exists or to make predictions, analyses or reports based on readily available data, that job will join landline phones, tube televisions, and Blockbuster in innovation heaven/hell.
It’s easy to agonize about AI. But if you are one of those silver-lining types that feels like everything happens for a reason, there are some existential reasons to be excited about AI.
For 300 years, survival of a society or culture was dependent on its ability to function mechanically. The more mechanical a military, business or campaign functioned, the more efficient it became.
Our current education model was based on creating a workforce that could turn any business or industry into a well-oiled machine. Even industries that have no factories (such as publishing, health care and banking) have adopted assembly-line processes.
Civilization has become so mechanical, one could argue that humanity is at risk of devaluing creativity. Civilization has become so fixated on the profits of efficiency, replication and mass production that it has lost appreciation for both humanity and nature.
Schools and industry have spent 300 years turning people into machines. It’s no surprise that the process of creating machine-like humans has led to a desire for humans to replace the dreary aspects of their lives with machines.
Perhaps this will lead to humans being more human. Perhaps around the corner is a new advancement—one in which humans can experience the wonders of nature and gain wisdom from mishap-filled adventures that allow us to enhance and reclaim our humanity because machines take care of the low-grade clerical work, routine processes and formulaic report writing.
We have surpassed the figure anticipated by Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne. We are now living in the future anticipated by Arthur C. Clarke, Phillip K. Dick, and Isaac Asimov. But it doesn’t have to be an apocalyptic future of technology and dust. Within the works of each of these authors, humanity discovers itself. I think that is likely far more important than whether computers and robots are going to steal our jobs.
I am an alternative education enthusiast. I homeschooled my kids, and when I taught mass communication to university students, I taught them without textbooks, reports, quizzes or tests.
That’s because I believe that creativity is the core of innovation, ingenuity and problem solving.
In other words, I believe that being human is more essential to progress than being a machine.
One thing is certain about the present: students aren’t being prepared for a future where they have to improvise and excel at being human. Until failure is seen as a part of the human process of gaining wisdom, and society admits that education is what happens when you discover what you weren’t taught in school, the school system is going to produce “educated” students who can be replaced by AI and machines.
Read last month's article on AI:
Send your technology questions to Adam in care of the BEACON, or email him at [email protected]