AI and Automation - Managing the Risk to Reap the Reward

Personally, I have been hung up on Transhumanism. For those of you not familiar Transhumanism is the practice of imbedding technology directly nito your body — merging man and machine, a subset of AI and Automation. It seems obvious to me that when given the chance, some people with resources will enhance/augment themselves in order to gain an edge at the expense of other human beings around them. It’s really the same concept as trying to get into a better university, or training harder on the athletic field. As a species we are competitive and if it is important enough to you, one will do what it takes to win. People will always use this competitive fire to gain an upperhand on others. Whether it is performance enhancing drugs in sports, or paid lobbyists in politics, money, wealth and power create an uneven playing field. Technology is another tool and some, if not many, will use it for nefarious purposes, I am certain.

But nefarious uses of AI are only part of the story. When it comes to transhumanism, there are many upsides. The chance to overcome Alzeheimers, to return the use of lost limbs, to restore eyesight and hearing. Lots of places where technology in the body can return the disabled to normal human function which is a beautiful story.

So in that spirit, I want to shine a light on all of the unquestionable good that we may choose to do with advances in AI and automation. Because when we have a clear understanding of both good outcomes and bad outcomes, then we are in a position to understand our risk/reward profile with respect to the technology. When we understand our risk/reward profile, we can determine if the risks can be managed and if the rewards are worth it.

Let’s try some examples, starting with the good:

  1. AI and Automation may enhance the world’s economic growth to the point where there is enough wealth to eradicate poverty, hunger and homelessness.
  2. AI & Automation will allow researchers to test and discovery more drugs and medical treatments to eliminate debilitating disease, especially diseases that are essentially a form of living torture, like Alzheimers or Cerebral Palsy.
  3. Advancement of technology will allow us to explore our galaxy and beyond
  4. Advancement in computing technology and measurement techniques will allow us to understand the physical world around us at even the smallest, building block level
  5. Increase our efficiency and reduce wasteful resource consumption, especially carbon-based energy.

At least those five things are unambiguously good. There is hardly a rational thinker around who will dispute those major advancements and their inherent goodness. It is also likely that the sum of that goodness, out-weighs the sum of any badness that we come across with the advancement of AI and Automation. Why am I confident in saying that? Because it appears to be true for the entirety of our existence. The reason technology marches forward is because it is viewed as inherently good, inherently beneficial and in most cases, as problem solving.

But here is where the problem lies and my concern creeps in. AI has enornormous potential to benefit society. As a result it has significant power. Significant power comes with significant downside risk if that power is abused.

Here are some concerns:

  1. Complete loss of privacy (Privacy)
  2. Imbedded bias in our data, systems and algorithms that perpetuate inequality (Bias)
  3. Susceptibility to hacking (Security)
  4. Systems that operating in and sometimes take over our lives, without sharing our moral code or goals (Ethics)
  5. Annihiliation and machine takeover, if at some point the species is deemed useless or worse, a competitor (Control and Safety)

There are plenty of other downside risks, just like there are plenty of additional upside rewards. The mission of this blog post was not to calculate the risk/reward scenarios today, but rather to highlight for the reader that there are both Risks and Rewards. AI and Automation isn’t just awesome, there are costs and they need to be weighed.

My aim in the 12+ months that I have considered the AI Risk space has been very simple, but maybe poorly expressed. So let me try to set the record straight with a couple of bullet points:

  1. ForHumanity supports and applauds the advancement of AI and Automation. ForHumanity also expects technology to advance further and faster than the expectation of the majority of humanity.
  2. ForHumanity believes that AI & Automation have many advocates and will not require an additional voice to champion its expected successes. There are plenty of people poised to advance AI and Automation
  3. ForHumanity believes that there are risks associated with the advancement of AI and Automation, both to society at-large as well as to individual freedoms, rights and well-being
  4. ForHumanity believes that there are very few people who examine these risks, especially amongst those who develop AI and Automation systems and in the general population
  5. Therefore, to improve the likelihood of the broadest, most inclusive positive outcomes from the advancement of technology, ForHumanity focuses at identifying and solving the downside risks associated with AI and Automation

When we consider our measures of reward and the commensurate risk, are we accurately measuring the rewards and risks? My friend and colleague John Havens at IEEE has been arguing for sometime now that our measures of well-being are too economic (profit, capital appreciation, GDP) and neglect more difficult to measure concepts such as joy, peace and harmony. The result is that we may not correctly evaluate the risk/reward profile, reach incorrect conclusions and charge ahead with our technological advances. It is precisely that moment that my risk management senses kick in. If we can eliminate or mitigate the downside risks, then our chance to be successful, even if measured poorly increases dramatically. That is why ForHumanity focuses on the downside risk of technology. What can we lose? What sacrifices are being made? What does a bad outcome look like?

With that guiding principle, ForHumanity presses forward to examine the key risks associated with AI and Automation, Safety & Control, Ethics, Bias, Privacy and Security. We will try to identify the risks and solutions to those risks with the aim to provide each member of society the best possible outcome along the way. There may be times that ForHumanity comes across as negative or opposed to technology, but in the vast majority of cases that is not true. We are just focused on the associated risks with technology. The only time we will be negative on a technology is when the risks overwhelm the reward.

We welcome company on this journey and certainly could use your support as we go. Follow our facebook feed ForHumanity or Twitter @forhumanity_org and of course on the website at https://www.forhumanity.center/