Last week I went for a drink after work. It was a Thursday. The sun was shining. I just had a stressful day. I deserved a glass of wine. Or that is just what the mathematics inside my head wanted me to believe. I headed into one of my friend’s restaurant and as I sit there, our group is chatting about the football, holidays, food, wine…. As I just got back from the Founders of the Future, I get asked: “what was it like?”.

I start by explaining what the group is, and how people are selected to be part of it.  I tell them that a form of artificial intelligence plays a great deal in selecting the attendees, and matching them to discussion topics. At my first mention of A.I, my friend’s fiancee says he believes artificial intelligence to be the beginning of the end. My head spins, but I am curious to know his reasoning, so I ask, why?

He states the obvious fear “A.I will take over and we will have no control”. I mean… the guy has a point, if Elon Musk is terrified of artificial intelligence and Stephen Hawking believes “the development of full AI could spell the end of the human race”, why wouldn’t he?

I engage in a friendly debate. I explain the difference between consciousness and intelligence, and how I believe that what makes us human is not our intelligence, but our emotions. I talk about the little bits of machine learning and artificial intelligence already present in our day-to-day. I appeal to his curiosity, I paint a picture of a world where humans can focus on doing high-value tasks, thinking, engaging, being creative, while computers work away repeatable processes. I dare to dream bigger and to expose societal problems, such as a justice system, that have the potential to become fairer and more reliable with the use of artificial intelligence.

As I make my argument, I have a light-bulb moment. His fear doesn’t come from artificial intelligence, it comes from humans. We have a track record of using cutting edge technology for bad things. My chemist’s head goes back to Zyklon B, Agent Orange, TNT, Sarin Gas and the nuclear fusion, all well-meaning discoveries that were used against humans and killed many during times of war. So, what makes artificial intelligence any better?

My head spins again, I didn’t ask for such a deep reflection on a Thursday evening. All I wanted was a glass of wine and now I am questioning humanity. Have we not learnt from the big disasters like the atomic bomb? Are we not better than this? The answer in my head is no. I think of all the people out there ready to use technology as weapons, actively researching to get ahead on the run for power and money. I think of all the hate I see in the news. I think of the extremism that is growing around the world. I am afraid.

The subject slowly dies, but as I walk home, I think about our reality and how machine intelligence is embedded in our lives, from computers flying planes to algorithms that learn about us and offer tailored ads. The merging fields of genetic, engineering and nanotechnology.  The potential of AI is huge, but the risk is high.

My dad always told me, that in order to win big, you need to play big. His words echo in my mind as I walk through George St. and I try to think of a solution. The first one that comes to mind involve the Dutch and the German creating A.I insurance. I laugh. The second one is a better but much more ambitious solution. It involves using A.I to teach humans empathy. The one feeling that could save us all.

Is anyone up for the challenge?




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