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Tuesday, April 20th, 2021
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Can we trust AI?

Alan Turing, a brilliant scientist and mathematician is attributed with being the father of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Today his technology is part of every discussion about information technology development. Alan published a scientific paper in the late 1950s entitled as “Can machines think?” this short paper laid the foundations for AI experimentation for nearly seventy years at it is still in process with some success and a lot of failures. In essence, “The Turing Test” became the standard for testing intelligent computerized systems. The technological advances in storage and processing in recent decades have allowed AI systems to progress from its experimentation phase to a deployment phase. This is exciting and challenging for the industry as many of the current software systems will require rethinking and redesigning. 

AI is probably the most significant technological innovation after the microchip. It is the new “revolutionary” leap for the modern world. We will see more “smart” systems and devices collaborating with us almost in every facet of our lives. AI will lay the foundation for the fourth industrial revolution and will help transform our societies by optimizing what we do, democratizing knowledge and empowering humans to reach higher potential in performance. AI will also allow us to communicate freely with machines in natural language. It will be the first time we have machines adapting to humans as opposed to humans adapting to machines. Many human-machine conflicts will be minimized.  

With all that said it is important that we do not overstate what AI can do for humanity. In the same paper where Alan laid the grounds for artificial intelligence, he also said something important which is not often quoted in discussions and writings. He said that the question of whether “machines can think” is itself too meaningless to deserve discussion. Noam Chomsky, a renowned MIT professor said on the subject that asking if a “machine can think” is like saying “can a submarine swim”; it’s only a choice of language. 

There is a lot of hype on how AI is going to render most of us useless; machines will become smarter than humans will, it will take over our lives and jobs and we will become the inferior indigenous species on this planet earth.  

It must be understood now that the use of the word “intelligence” is overstated in describing what is being done! Perhaps Artificial Intellect would be a more specific description. Intelligence encompasses deductive and inductive thinking. Deep learning and cognitive computing is based on purely deductive mathematical models. Intelligence is about imagination, the ability to think beyond the truth of today. Intelligence is about human curiosity and knowing the answers to the questions, more than knowing the answer!  Intelligence is about surviving, coping, adapting and regenerating in any format. Intelligence is not about finding patterns in a huge number of examples and modeling them on statistical approximations. 

We need to understand how the human brain works before we can build truly intelligent computer systems that can mimic it and improve on it. Scientific discovery is normally ahead of engineering and not vice versa. The human brain is the holy grail of biological intelligence and it is the organ that we still know least about. Only recently, tools have allowed scientists to study it in detail but we still do not understand how it works beyond its basic functions. To date, we do not have a brain theory. We do not know the signaling language of the brain. We do not know where consciousness and memory reside. This is because the human brain is immensely more complex than any other organ in our body. It’s the equivalent, in IT terms, of a server-farm with eighty-three billion processors (neurons). Each ¨processor¨ is different but connected through a network of hundreds of billions of dynamic pathways, working and adapting in concert to make us who we are. It never stops! What’s more, unlike tech server farms, the energy consumption of the human brain is less than a 100-watt light bulb! In other words, it is insanely efficient and extremely complex and you can charge it with a doughnut or a hamburger! Therefore, it will be a long while before we can begin to unlock the mysteries of this organ and thereafter come up with a superior alternative. We are safe for now! 

It is also important to consider that human intelligence is based on reasoning that can be explained. This is not the case with artificial intelligence. It is common for people to question an expert as to why he or she has reached a conclusion. We expect experts to use logic as well as other intangible human and emotional factors to explain their rationale. Today, it is not possible to question the reasoning behind a result produced by an AI neural network. 

So how can we fully trust AI when its reasoning cannot be explained? The answer is simple. We cannot! I believe AI and humans need to forge a partnership where AI provides the intellectual “heavy lifting” and humans have the intelligent final say. Without this partnership and, if we allow AI to have the final say, with no human oversight, we will be ushering in an era of digital tyranny. 

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Written by

Vice President Infrastructure and Managed Services at Binary Systems Pvt. Ltd.

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