Beyond AI

Can algorithms of politeness, empathy, compassion or humour ever be fed into the machines?

Published - April 15, 2018 04:09 pm IST

There’s something about buzzwords. At some point or the other, everybody uses them. Every now and then, a new one emerges and the old ones die. However, one buzzword that’s not going to run out of buzz anytime soon is AI or Artificial Intelligence. And this is why professionals entering the job market today need to know about AI. In its crudest form, perhaps, AI can be traced back to some of the earliest machines in history. Take the abacus, the ancient mathematical tool that has been around for thousands of years, helping us with arithmetic calculations. It had a certain intelligence, which is still applied in the area of brain development and children’s education. The Antikythera (from around early 1st century BCE) designed to calculate astronomical positions can be considered another example of early computing. Over time, we have strived to create mechanisms that aid or mimic human intelligence. As a writer and communications professional, I’m interested in the inherent paradox of how mankind has used its natural intelligence to create artificial intelligence.

Boon or bane?

Every day, debates continue to rage between two schools — one that sees AI as some kind of evil force that will annihilate the human race, take away jobs and another that sees its wondrous possibilities. Amidst all this, one clear pattern is the machine’s or computer’s ability to advance till the day technological singularity will occur — when AI will reach human levels of intelligence. According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, this could happen in the next 30 years. We see AI around us every day as we rely, like hapless babies, on our smart phones, as the algorithms complete words and sentences for us in our WhatsApp messages, as we hang on to Google for every little piece of information, as we tumble dry our clothes in intelligent washing machines, visit a smart store or proudly display our Alexas. Henry Thoreau once said men have become the tools of their tools. Now more than ever!

AI is already becoming an area of billion-dollar investments for many companies globally. Departments that traditionally relied on human intelligence could all be augmented or perhaps replaced by an AI or a super intelligence. We will see more workplaces where AI will create superlative experiences for employees.

AI will soon influence practically every sphere of life. At the same time, I’m not sure about the effectiveness of the algorithms of politeness, empathy, compassion or humour that could be fed into the machines. These are some factors that make life in the workplace and home worth living. Sophia, the robot, (from Hanson Robotics) who is considered a sophisticated example of an AI, still can’t understand a joke or relate to sarcasm. Not yet at least. So perhaps there’s still hope for all of us.

While Sophia continues to observe human behaviour and develops her responses to nuances, we can work on those qualities, which still make us human. We can keep brushing up on our Ps&Qs. We may not find jobs for humour or empathy, but who knows what the future holds?

The author is a writer and literary journalist. She also heads Corporate Communications at UST Global. Twitter: @anupamaraju

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