Harnessing the Power of AI as a Force for Good.

The accelerating pace of progress in the fields of AI, machine learning, data science and other disruptive innovations is beginning to revolutionize both business and society.

As with other game-changing inventions such as electricity or jet travel, the impacts of these new digital technologies will be both exciting and disruptive – even, to some, threatening. They seem likely to redefine most of our “normal” day-to-day activities, including how we conduct business, how we design, develop and finance products and services, and how we work, travel, communicate, grow food, manage natural resources, support our elders and care for our children.

Yes, there will be winners and losers. But the future will belong to those who can use disruptive innovations such as AI and machine learning as positive social tools, to create a sustainable, inclusive and resilient future for all.

Slow Down to Go Fast:
A Balanced Approach to Optimizing the Power of Disruptive Innovations to Create a More Sustainable and Resilient Future

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is one of many global business leaders who worry that we might be jumping too fast on the AI train, without fully understanding its drawbacks. According to Pichai, “The impact of AI alone is more ‘profound’ than fire or electricity. Like fire and electricity, AI is basically both useful and dangerous at the same time.”

To optimize the potential value of these new tools, we must learn to use them responsibly.

We need to slow down to fully comprehend the meaning and proper use of AI and other new tools. What are they designed for – and what are they not so good at? How should they be used: to augment what’s already working, or for creating new processes and innovations? What are the unmet needs and grand challenges that the AI revolution is designed to address? How can we ensure technological progress will better people’s lives? And how will we know if it’s working (or not) the way we intended?

Remember the excitement of the Internet when it hit mainstream business in the late 1990s. The new millennium dawned as an era of hope, driven by a seemingly unstoppable tech boom. Virtually overnight, thousands of Internet-powered tech startups formed, challenged the status quo, and then suddenly went bust, taking with them billions in investment capital and thousands of jobs.

Tech innovators that survived shared a few basic values.

But those tech innovators that survived shared a few basic values. They balanced their love of technology with a commitment to using their innovations to solve actual problems and create real value for their customers. Companies such as Amazon, eBay and Priceline developed products and services that contributed to making a better, more connected world.

The system wasn’t perfect. Mistakes were made, fortunes were lost, and good ideas perished alongside the bad. But even though the journey was longer and tougher than anyone could have predicted, long-term winners such as Amazon kept their eye on the long term, bounced back, and continue to evolve today.

Making the Right Choices – The Future is Now

AI is different. It’s impacting virtually everything, every day in our own life time even if we are not aware of it – yet. Thus, it behooves leaders and influencers everywhere to fully understand what it is, and how it’s being used as a force for good and not. And how to make the right choices for a more resilient future.

How do we make the right choices?

It starts with broadening our worldview, and rethinking business as usual. Or as Einstein said: “We cannot solve problems with the same thinking used to create them.”

The great physicist and social thinker also said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Einstein’s observations suggest that we need to change the basic thinking that goes into the creation and use of new technologies and systems that might one day also cause problems. We have to think harder and ask more questions in order to anticipate potential issues, and thus develop the best approaches to the development and distribution of new technologies.

AI and other new tool kits promise to speed up decision-making, take over thousands of routine tasks, and create a more efficient, stable society. On the other hand, they seem poised to eliminate millions of jobs that people depend on. So how can we ensure that these technologies become forces for good?

We have to broaden our perspective. Think before we act.

Business leaders, innovators and technologists must become more conscious of the changes we are about to unleash, and their potential consequences for our communities and fellow citizens.

Can we change our consciousness? Yes. The emerging fields of neuroscience and brain plasticity tell us that we are not just slaves to old habits and outmoded ways of thinking. The human brain can learn and change when confronted with new obstacles and stimuli.

Be the change. We can start by coming up with better questions – driven by ethics as well as economics – about the changes we see coming in the world.

Julia Bossmann, president of the Foresight Institute, a Silicon Valley “think tank” focused on world-changing future technologies, recently identified nine looming ethical issues posed by the rise of artificial intelligence. Her “issues” provide a model for ways that all of us can assess, question and help manage the torrent of new technologies now threatening to drown us in unintended consequences.

Her questions:

  • What happens after the end of jobs?
  • How do we distribute the wealth created by machines?
  • How do machines affect our behavior and interaction?
  • How can we guard against mistakes?
  • How do we eliminate AI bias?
  • How do we keep AI safe from foreign adversaries?
  • How do we protect against unintended consequences?
  • How do we stay in control of a complex intelligent system?
  • How do we define the humane treatment of AI?

The Key is to keep an Open Mind

Clearly, the key is to keep an open mind – to look to the upside, while never failing to recognize the risks and dangers of moving too fast or trusting too much. Our world has almost always benefited by embracing new technology, and it will – mostly – continue to. (A December 2017 study by Gartner Group predicted that AI will actually generate 2.3 million new jobs in the U.S. by 2020, while wiping out 1.8 million – for a net gain of 500,000 jobs. Again, winners and losers: Gartner expects the public sector, health care and education to see the biggest job gains, while manufacturing and transportation seem likely to be hit hardest.)

We have much to gain by embracing technology

Clearly, we have much to gain by embracing technology. But by doing so thoughtfully, ethically and creatively, we can ensure the gains outweigh the losses, and plan for fruitful transitions that ensure the AI revolution – and other technology waves – leave minimal damage in their wake.

As technology becomes more powerful, its capacity to create social good increases. If we as innovators and community members can improve our capacity to plan for what’s coming and manage the downside, we can confidently – if carefully – reap the benefits of business and societal transformation.

Yasmin Glanville will be speaking on “Let’s take on the future together” at the RSI AI/Sustainable Futures Summit on March 28, 2018. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.eventbrite.ca.