In An AI World Where Do Humans Belong?

In An AI World Where Do Humans Belong?
February 15, 2018 Layla Shea
Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence or AI as it’s also called is all around us. More and more aspects of our lives are being impacted by AI. I can ask Alexa what happened in the winter Olympics before leaving for a meeting in the morning. Then my Nest, knowing that I’ve left for the day, drops the temperature of my home so I can save a few dollars. I watch in awe at videos of cars driving themselves.

Despite all the rapid advancements, research conducted by Sklar Wilton & Associates’ first annual Canadian Artificial Intelligence tracker is showing us that adoption levels for AI are still relatively low. This all got me thinking about the evolving landscape and what the future might hold.

Hope For The Future

I recently read the TED Talk book by Chris Anderson. The book is essentially about great public speaking and sharing stories that people will want to hear. The message at the end of the book however was related to the future, and specifically a future in which AI infiltrates nearly every profession. TED has been built on technology as one of its core pillars, yet Anderson addresses the importance of humans within the context of AI. He starts with a question:

‘In a world in which machines are rapidly getting super-smart at any specialist knowledge task we can throw at them, what are humans even for?’

Anderson follows with an answer to this question that is highly hopeful and positive for the human side of the equation.

‘Humans are for being more human than we’ve ever been. More human in how we work. More human in how we learn. And more human in how we share that knowledge with each other…we’re entering an era where we all need to spend a lot more time learning from each other.’

Intelligent machines will undoubtedly change the way we function and conduct our work and personal lives. I agree with Chris Anderson’s perspective that this should give us reason to be hopeful. I look forward to the time when repetitive daily tasks no longer need to be done by humans. That would free us up to focus our time on higher value tasks. It will enable us to be even more innovative, more strategic and more creative in our work and our lives outside of work. That’s exciting!


Deeper Human Understanding Needed

A recent TED talk (yes, I admit I’ve been binging on TED talks recently) about the source of emotions by  Lisa Feldman Barrett supported Anderson’s idea of the importance of humans in the future. Feldman made me see that with the expansion of Artificial Intelligence, contextual knowledge will become increasingly important, as will a deeper knowledge of our own humanity. Companies like Google and Facebook are spending millions on emotion-detection systems. Feldman argues, based on her research, that these systems will never be able to understand the context that is required to make the emotions meaningful. Only a human can do that:

“… the emotions that you seem to detect in other people actually come in part from what’s inside your own head… tech companies… are spending millions of research dollars to build emotion-detection systems and they are fundamentally asking the wrong question, because they’re trying to detect emotions in the face and the body, but… physical movements have no intrinsic emotional meaning. We have to make them meaningful. A human… has to connect them to the context… that’s how we know that a smile might mean sadness and a cry might mean happiness.”

Bring It On!

So if Alexa or another machine can one day plan my weekly meals and fill my fridge, I say, ‘bring it on’! And if AI tools can help the Upwords team analyze 100+ hours of participant data from a project so more time can go into higher-value client work, we say ‘bring it on’! Analysis is very time consuming but it is critical to generating insights. Insights (not analysis) are what help clients make better decisions and see their business in new ways. No matter how ‘intelligent’ the machine however, I believe that humans will be the ones to provide the context and generate the insights from the data and analysis. And humans (not machines) will be the ones to create the stories that engage teams to act on the insights. Sorry Alexa!

We all will be leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence to a much greater degree in the near future, but we should not underestimate the power and role of ourselves as humans in that equation.


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