Vox Pop: Is the rise of AI really a threat to humanity?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

The rise of AI has been a topic on the minds of tech wizards for decades. Now, with Cortana and Siri helping us get up in the morning and directing us when lost, and Tesla's driverless cars set to take the reigns of the highways by 2050, where does that leave us humans? What skills will the world require with machines doing all the work for us? Pioneers of AI have been throwing opinions around about how the rise of machines will affect humanity. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, went as far to claim that AI is "our biggest existential threat" and that the creation of it would be "tantamount to summoning a demon." Drum Network members discuss whether the rise of AI is a real threat to humanity as we know it.

Ex machina, artificial intelligence

Peter Ballard, founding partner, Foolproof

The mention of AI typically conjures images of a dystopian future, ruled by android overlords. But the truth is AI is capable of having a benevolent influence on our lives; and in reality it is still us humans who pose the greatest threat to the future of our species. Driverless cars have the potential to dramatically improve road safety by removing the risk of human error. And in the medical industry machine learning is already being used to track patient history and make data-led-diagnosis based on real time biometrics. But perhaps most interesting is the development of Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI). AEI will allow us to replicate and map our brain activity; helping us identify subliminal thoughts and patterns of behaviour, which have a negative effect on our health and our relationships. These digital mind maps will, in theory, help us to lead healthier, fuller and happier lives.

The threat to our own ‘humanity’ is perhaps a little closer to home, and more insidious. As larger organisations try to replace human call centres and service with AI agents, the obvious story is job losses – but the subtext is the ‘dehumanising’ of customer experience, if it’s not done sensitively and with expert execution.

Maria Djaleva, digital account manager, Underscore

I think it’s brilliant that latest tech advancements have brought us something that a decade ago we’d only experienced in Spielberg’s films. It’s a matter of mindset shift and approach; we need to see AI as an opportunity to explore and find unconventional solutions rather than as a threat. We’ve already been exposed to and benefited from basic forms of AI: you count on Google’s algorithm to give you the best result in what you are trying to find, or Facebook’s to deliver your ad campaign to your target audience. AI is not that different than these technologies. Essentially, it has the ability to process large sets of data and facilitate a decision making process.

It’s exciting to see companies like Apple tapping into AI that can read people’s emotions by analysing facial expressions, or EyeQuant, a software that gives you instant objective feedback on mobile and web designs. You’d be able to validate your thinking and your strategy even before rolling out a campaign or a product, and you can allocate your time on crafting the emotional element, the connection. That’s incredibly powerful.

Pedro Valentin, head of technology, Impero

The funny thing about AI is that it has been around for so long that we almost forgot about it. Until now. The increase in computation power and advances in research has led to a resurgence of AI technology and mainstream interest. With companies like Google, Tesla and Apple betting big on AI, it’s hard to avoid it. If you want to see how far we’ve come just go on google images and type “A man holding a bowl of cereal”. The specificity of the algorithm results will probably amaze you, and scare you at the same time.

Although, I’m not sure that we should be scared of an 'evil machine that will control us all'. Instead, as with any technological revolution, humans will determine the intention (good or bad) and potential for AI. That’s the big unknown - what will we do with this technology? AI has the potential to change every aspect of our lives and every industry. Tasks that we didn’t imagine could be automated, eventually will be - including my own job. How will we adapt?

We’re still in the early stages of this revolution and it’s hard to have a clear vision of what the world will look like 20 years from now when machines are smarter than us - and trust me, they will be. What I would like to see more people discussing, and this is arguably the most important aspect we need to consider; how will societies look and behave as AI is integrated into our lifestyles? The question should not be about the technology, because we’ve pretty much solved that, but about ourselves.

Greg Cavanagh, experience architect, Else London

I recently went to the IXDA conference in Helsinki, AI was widely talked about across the 4 stages. The main themes that reocurred were ‘Agentive’ and 'Autonomous Technology.’ These themes relate to the concept of machines performing tasks on behalf of the user. What I found particularly thought provoking was the degree to which the user plays a part in the experience. We welcome the use of AI to take over tasks such as vacuuming without user involvement, but as Chris Noessel said in his talk ‘Users still want to play’. I think an important consideration should be the level of user involvement when moving forward and designing for AI incorporated tech.

What defines us as humans is our ability to be empathetic - AI is a long way off mimicking this aspect of human behaviour. As designers we need to understand the world through many differing perspectives. I don’t see AI effectively distinguishing these human subtitles and taking our jobs any time soon. The other big consideration is the risks if and when things go wrong, for example the recent bug where those who asked Siri to charge their phones to 100% caused the device to call the police. AI may make our lives a lot easier, but where does the responsibility lay when machines are doing things on our behalf?

Allan McLaughlin, director, BD Network

If humanity is based on the collective and human beings working together as one for the good of all, or is that socialism? Then AI can be a force for good, theoretically. That debate will unfold over time. The immediate opportunity and challenge for agencies and marketers is worth considering. AI programs are, and will continue to improve targeting and sales but aren’t (yet) advanced enough to make qualitative decisions.

Over the next 5 years, a sensible period to speculate, AI programs could, and should be advanced enough to handle not only the nuances of (native) media planning, customer service and feedback but the creative interpretation as well, like advanced AB testing with marketing communication constantly adapting and tailored to the user. Thus positively encouraging us all not to ad block but to experience useful, informed, entertaining media.

The exciting thing, for agencies is that if machines are covering the functional tasks, with the ‘dull stuff’ automated; the role of marketing reverts back to being innovative and creative. There’s nothing artificial but something very intelligent in that.

Sarat Pediredla, CEO, Hedgehog Lab

With the rapid advancements coming out in AI, there is a very distinct threat of a Terminator-like Skynet scenario. Just the past week we have seen Google's Deepmind project bear the world champion of Go 2-0 and anyone who has seen the latest videos from Boston Dynamics with what the robots are capable of will surely have a few nightmares.

Elon Musk, who is a pioneer in tech, has consistently warned about the risks of unchecked AI and I think as we see AI develop, we will see increased focus on ethics, governance and management of AI related technology. The real question is, can we actually control Skynet?

David Walby, biddable director, Navigate Digital

Humanity isn’t at threat, but it is evolving. Technology is altering our grey matter, and there may be some basis to those that argue tech is driving us further apart – we can Whatsapp people on the other side of the world, but have trouble stoking up an ACTUAL conversation with the person opposite on the tube. There are some interesting schools-of-thought about what tech will allow us to leave behind - an “ultimate selfie”. Jacki Ford Morie, founder and chief scientist at The Augmented Traveller, suggests that the not-too-distant selfie will be an avatar that lives on after you, with its own ‘memory’ based on your digital footprint, perhaps with the ability to interact with your grandchildren and generations after. Every aspect of our physiology and biology can be captured by sensors, and the ways in which we can capture our physical appearance are becoming much more sophisticated (we can even capture layers of skin). In the virtual world, people are increasingly using avatars to create digital forms of themselves, and the lines between what’s physical and what’s digital are well and truly blurred – in the future we might be able to live in these digital realities, moving between the physical & the digital in ways we cannot even imagine today.

Martin Jordan, innovation director, Equator

This week Google’s DeepMind proved AI is going places when their AlphaGo won at Go! It learned by playing itself, training its neural networks on a trial and improvement basis.

So – it’s sentient of a sort – a learning machine that gets smarter every day. It also learns to predict the future outcomes based on past behaviours and outcomes. So it’s a savant! This is the world of Terminator and I Robot and we should be scared – a bit. This proves machines, in certain scenarios can out-think and out-manoeuvre humans…at specific rules-driven tasks. And jobs that work in this way, like accountancy, law (to some degree) etc will be done by computers in years to come. But we should not fear AI truly.

We are still years away from a computer “brain”. Brains don’t follow rules and logic, it’s a far more organic process in every way. And AI experts currently conclude that we’re still far away from the truly sentient computer – one that doesn’t need programming, rules and algorithms to learn and evolve. Whilst some of us may lament the rise of the machine, we’re not about to be overrun by killer robots for a long, long time!

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