Over the past few posts we have discussed the novel new technologies that have been expanding more and more into our lives. However progress is never without risk, and so today we will take a look at what problems we might face in the future.
Intrusive use of facial recognition technology, jobs shifting to automation without the education/training to recycle those that lost their jobs are just a few of those problems.
But why are we focusing on the problems? Simply put, awareness. It is always good to be aware of the pitfalls of the future so that we best avoid them. Besides, it is always a nice mental exercise, so without further ado, lets get to it!
One of the major issues with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technology is bias. One of the things that naive people argue as a benefit for machine learning is that it will be an unbiased decision maker / helper / facilitator. This can’t be further from the truth. Machine learning models are built by people. People have biases whether they realize it or not. Bias exists and will be built into a model. Just realize that bias is there and try to manage the process to minimize that bias. This point has been argued by many: from blog posts, like this one from Eric D.Brown to Cathy O'Neil's book Weapons Of Math Destruction.
The premise? When you are constructing a system, the theory is that you have to make sure it will make unbiased decisions based on raw data. However, as this system is made by people, bias is unavoidable.
Another thing we need to consider is off course, the data. From lack of data, to flat out having false data, either by accident, or worse, on purpose, the results of our automated tech is without a doubt, very data dependent.
Failing to understand those faults may lead to results that are against everything automation stands for. Automation that does not make our life easier, or actively puts barriers for specific people, is something that goes against Automation at best, and raises morality questions at worse.
Digital and Social Pitfalls.
With new technology we see the cloud and Internet applications almost swarm our lives every day. With new apps and more users, the need to keep up with the risks of our digital lives is more and more relevant. Examples such as Clearview AI, with its intrusive AI no longer obtainable in Illinois by anything but law-enforcement raise a simple question: Why only on Illinoi? As the Verge's article mentions: "The plaintiff in the lawsuit, David Mutnick, sued Clearview in January for violating his and other state residents’ privacy under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a rare and far-reaching piece of facial recognition-related legislation that makes it illegal for companies to collect and store sensitive biometric data without consent. The law is the same one under which Facebook settled a class-action lawsuit earlier this year for $550 million over its use of facial recognition technology to identify, without consent, the faces of people in photos uploaded to its social network."
And stories like that are only the tip of the iceberg. The internet has brought with it facets of culture and influence that are astounding in the way in which they shift, grow and influence their followers. With youtube culture and social media celebrities wielding unheard of power over their followers, in terms of being role models or promoting their ideas and beliefs. In an article by Technology Review we see just how damaging this can be, as those platforms inadvertently help spread fake news, misinformation and in some rare cases, propaganda.
It is very important however, to not read the above and think that the answer is more moderation and more control. That will only lead to bias and censorship the likes of which we may not wish to consider. Censorship is already a major issue discussed on many people when the talk about Internet regulation is brought up, and I for one, think that we need to approach this with modesty.
Those issues might never become real, some might already be, and others might never come to pass. We must recognize the potential for harm, and make sure that we take the necessary steps to avoid them, so that we might all enjoy the benefits.
But the digital and automated technologies are not the only things we should be concerned about. As technology and our knowledge of biology and physics expands, the question of ethics becomes more and more relevant. After all, just because we "can" do something does not mean we "should".
"Synthetic biology is the design and construction of biological devices and systems. It has great potential as a means of developing new beneficial medical technologies. But it also creates the ability to design and build novel pathogens". Though the Coronavirus conspiracy theories may not have any validity in their claims, the truth of the above statement is very very real. Even Bill Gates in his famous, or infamous, Ted Talk about humanity not having enough infrastructure to combat pandemics, he did mention the possibility of biological warfare and bioterrorism to be a very real thing.
Furthermore, with our advanced in Geoengineering and the technology that revolving around that entire area, might be another issue entirely. In a paper of the University of Oxford they say that Geoengineering is the deliberate use of technology to alter the Earth’s climatic system. Geoengineering techniques have been proposed as a last resort against global warming. For example, sulphate aerosols have a global cooling effect: by pumping sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere, it is possible to decrease global temperatures. That does not sound that bad right?
Well, how can we be sure what the effects will be? Tampering with the natural environment like that, without knowing fully what the consequences of our interference will cause then perhaps it is best we do not tamper with it. Yet.
And we have not even begun to untangle the great discussion that is bio-ethics. With cloning becoming more and more plausible, and even some rumors of attempted "teleportation" of inorganic mass, questions regarding the morality of cloning, how and when to allow it is something that a lot of articles have been written about the subject, even an entire wikipedia page.
One thing to take away from the discussion however, is that most reservations are more focused on not deploying such groundbreaking methods until we are sure of how -exactly- do they work. As far as I am concerned, I would have to agree, perhaps some caution should be used when we are toying with things that might be bigger than ourselves.
The future is bright, but where something shines bright there is always a shadow. Now more than ever is the time to approach innovation and progress with a proper amount of respect and caution, so that we may avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and make sure that tomorrow is that much brighter.