Utopia: A Romance with AI

by

Today, there is no mystery. Social Media is becoming more sophisticated. The media giants Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google know so much about us that their machine learning algorithms target us with personalised content.

The metrics of popularity are pervasive and unavoidable. The mechanics of social media technology is so systematic that news stories, video clips, music playlists — everything comes with view counts, share counts, and crowdsourced ratings. Popularity is now a quantifiable commodity that determines which content I pickup.

My smart phone is my super-power that extends my ability to compute. We take them everywhere and even leave them on when we sleep. We give them access to the most intimate details so that we can track, visualise and monitor our lives, trusting always that the information they give us is accurate and true. The emotional attachment we have formed with our smart phones is profound, without them we feel incomplete – and if you are in any doubt just try to take one away from a teenage kid.

Simply put, the rate at which cloud-based AI technology is being used in everyday life is increasing. For example: some current news articles have been written by a Chatbot and it’s predicted that our future cities will be driven by AI. In this vision, computers are used to automate repetitive mundane tasks so that “we humans” are free to pursue meaningful interactions. Artificial Intelligence represents the birth of a new social order, is this a vision of Utopia?

Imagine: I wake up one morning and call out to my digital assistant & there are many on choice – Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and IBM’s Watson. The conversation might go:

Me
Good Morning Lola, what’s the weather like today?

Digital Assistant
The temperature is 18°C. It will be sunny
with showers between 3 & 4pm

Me
What’s happening in the news today Lola?

Digital Assistant
In the news today..

Fast Forward >> The inevitable truth is that the information the Digital Assistant “Lola” will present is filtered through the prism of a technology provider running a search engine (of some description) in the background. Online search engines are so easy and convenient to use it’s easy to think that the Artificial Intelligence engine inside them has been created from a perfectly fitted mould cast out of our human need – it can feel so personal – are we metaphorically speaking, being seduced into a digital cradle of care.

The reality is, Digital Assistant makers are in direct competition with one another for your attention. They record every interaction to find out what we want and if “Lola” told me that I should take my umbrella to work today, then I would get a loved up feeling based on an understanding that I am cared for – and I would in return care for it right back by renewing my subscription.

Clearly, technology is seductive, I think of the relationship between a person and their Digital Assistant as a kind of love affair between a human being and a perfect sentinel being. In fact, I believe the expectation for perfection is so high that when we detect a flaw in the technology we become frustrated, disappointed – here’s the story of Mark Ritman’s 12-hour battle with his wi-fi kettle

Machine Love: Artificial Intelligence exists because of a romance between man & machine, it’s a relationship that is based in the power of seduction technology has over humanity. Technology fulfils the promise of a Utopian dream and we demonstrate our trust in our ability to achieve that dream every time we use our smartphones and feed the AI more personal information. Without insight into my personal statistics the AI Digital Assistant is unable to serve me in a personalised way. Yet, with every interaction I make I add another piece of consumer information to the growing data mine that is being collected by my Technology provider; which in turn feeds their continually growing machine learning algorithm that is being written to quantify the human race.

Do you wonder if the creator’s of AI understand what is going on inside their Data Mining Mechanism, I mean how could they? The amount of information they are collecting is vast. And as they continue to accumulate mountains of information about us, and the artificially intelligent sentinel beings in the machine start to determine their own logic, at what point will my decision-making process be influenced – if not guided by Artificial Intelligence.

Make no mistake – that day has come and has already gone!

The irony is, any statement that says Artificial Intelligence is a technology that exists to serve us overlooks the fact that AI is a double-edged phenomenon, although it may have been created to serve us we may at some point become the dependent.

Every time I agree to the terms and conditions of my technology provider I rarely stop to read what rights I’ve just signed away – I agree to it anyway because I love what the technology can do for me. Is this a metaphor for the relationship between man and AI?

  • Thoughts by fiction writer who loves technology!