Does artificial intelligence help us do stupid things faster?

If you’re reading this blog, you’re doing it on some form of digital device; and artificial intelligence is helping us to consider whether I’m helping you to do stupid things faster? Clearly, on this occasion, my hope is that this is NOT the case, but what has prompted me to explore this question?

There is no doubt that in areas like the diagnosis of serious diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s, we can program digital devices to analyse vast databases of MRI scans and learn to spot the signs that previously required years of specialist training and experience. But there are other applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning that don’t seem very smart and may be downright dangerous.

More and more thoughtful technologists are warning us of the dangers of AI. In a recent article in The Guardian, it is reported that workers at Google, Twitter and Facebook have purposefully designed their platforms to be so addictive that “our minds can be hijacked”. And we know this to be true not only in terms of our hijacked elections, but also in terms of the mental health of those addicted to their Instagram fantasies.

The development of autonomous vehicles is another area where billions of dollars are being invested in the AI that enables your car to take control of your journey from A to B. But as with the purpose of social media to make you an addict, no one is really questioning fundamental questions of purpose for autonomous vehicles.

Few are questioning WHY we think that cars or trucks need to exist at all, before we consider the technological challenges in trying to write, for example, a moral code for your car to choose in an emergency, between killing 10 strangers rather than your own child? Even more fundamental is the question of WHY we want to get from A to B and back again in the first place? Before the invention of the railway, most human beings on this planet were happy enough living within walking distance of their workplaces, friends and families. Shouldn’t we be using technology to deepen our relationships with our nearest and dearest, rather than superficial interactions with the many?

So let’s use some thoughtful human intelligence and keep asking the “Why?” question, before we waste billions on artificial intelligence that answers our stupid questions.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it”

Henry Ford