Paul Jones: ‘We used to teach people how to use computers. Now we teach computers how to use people’
Paul Jones, professor emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, wrote, “There is a specter haunting the internet – the specter of artificial intelligence. All the powers of old thinking and knowledge production have entered into a holy (?) alliance to exorcise this specter: frenzied authors, journalists, artists, teachers, legislators and, most of all, lawyers. We are still waiting to hear from the Pope.
“In education, we used to teach people how to use computers. Now, we teach computers how to use people. By aggregating all that we can of human knowledge production in nearly every field, the computers can know more about humans as a mass and as individuals than we can know of ourselves. The upside is these knowledgeable computers can provide, and will quickly provide, better access to health, education and in many cases art and writing for humans. The cost is a loss of personal and social agency at individual, group, national and global levels.
“Who wouldn’t want the access? But who wouldn’t worry, rightly, about the loss of agency? That double desire is what makes answering these questions difficult. ‘Best and most beneficial’ and ‘most harmful and menacing’ are opposite so much as co-joined. Like conjoined twins sharing essential organs and blood systems. Unlike for some such twins, no known surgery can separate them. Just as cars gave us, over a short time, a democratization of travel and at the same time became major agents of death – immediately in wrecks, more slowly via pollution – AI and the infrastructure to support it will give us untold benefits and access to knowledge while causing untold harm.
“We can predict somewhat the direction of AI, but more difficult will be how to understand the human response. Humans are now, or will soon be, co-joined to AI even if they don’t use it directly. AI will be used on everyone just as one need not drive or even ride in a car to be affected by the existence of cars. AI changes will emerge when it possesses these traits:
- Distinctive presences (AKA voices but also avatars personalized to suit the listener/reader in various situations). These will be created by merging distinctive human writing and speaking voices, say maybe Bob Dylan + Bruce Springsteen.
- The ability to emotionally connect with humans (AKA presentation skills).
- Curiosity. AI will do more than respond. It will be interactive and heuristic, offering paths that have not yet been offered – we have witnessed this AI behavior in the playing of Go and chess. AI will continue to present novel solutions.
- A broad and unique worldview. Because AI can be trained on all digitizable human knowledge and can avail itself of information from sensors more in variance with those open to humans, AI will be able to apply, say, Taoism to questions about weather.
- Empathy. Humans do not have an endless well of empathy. We tire easily. But AI can seem persistently and constantly empathetic. You may say that AI empathy isn’t real, but human empathy isn’t always either.
- Situational Awareness. Thanks to input from a variety of sensors, AI can and will be able to understand situations even better than humans.
No area of knowledge work will be unaffected by AI and sensor awareness.
“How will we greet our robot masters? With fear, awe, admiration, envy and desire.”