Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is scary stuff and few of us who touch technology at work have not had cause to jump to read articles like this one. Most readers – their professions notwithstanding – I suspect are seeking some kind of subliminal reassurance feed that machine learning is not about to out-wit, out-perform and out-last us at work.
I was invited not long ago to write about AI for the HRzone web site, which is one I very much enjoy and recommend, for feature in a month of focus on these futuristic concepts. My research took me rather beyond the world of HR tech and here is something of a whistle-stop journey through age-old philosophy and religion, via 1980’s marketing and into cutting edge science.
Enjoy some reading here on just how AI challenges us as “real” minds. To take literal heart, I’ll then use a bit of tech explanation to show that we will survive. Read soon from me, not least for the HR professionals out there, 6 suggested qualities of the old-fashioned human being that convince me that the ‘bots won’t beat us yet.
The weakest form of AI means computers performing functions associated with human intelligence. Examples that most of us have heard of are IBM’s “Deep Blue” chess player or your new desktop friend, Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri. But in development now is AI that does not only what we do because we are intelligent, but in the way that we do it too and then more some. Applied generally, one type of machine could act like a human brain for more than one type of human functioning and it would not be limited to accepting the human brain’s conclusions.
Rene Descartes’ famous reasoning, “Cogito ergo sum” (or “I think, therefore I am”) was a conclusion for human-kind that there could be a scientific method which ruled out doubt. The ultimate doubt for a person (think “The Matrix”) is that we exist at all. His thought experiments imagined a demon who could mislead him about anything, except for his own awareness of thought. His thoughts might be wrong, but he knew that he was there as a thinker. “I think, therefore I am.”
Descartes wrote his “Principles of Philosophy” and “The Age of Reason” back in the 17th century, at a time before science as we know it and for sure before the advent of technology. Today I wonder if he might have been just the right thinker to address our question about AI replacing jobs. Are we facing a new age of reason, where we have to question whether reason means we replace our own reasoning with something that does it better?
The 1988 ad slogan by IBM, “I think, therefore IBM”, has since been accredited as one of the most memorable and successful in marketing history. Recently it finds a second coming. One development behind machine learning is something called a “neurosynaptic chip”, which forms the basis for a processor modelled on how brains work and coming close to what brains can do. Potential uses are in robotics, but also in digital assistance to reasoning and decision-making – handling more efficiently, without error or oversight, the complex thinking that we humans do.
IBM are far from alone in working with this. Importantly, the new goal is that the artificially intelligent machine has the same “plasticity” that we do.
As it learns, it changes itself.
This sounds like horror movies for employment levels. There we have it and the futuristic redundancy vision for not only HR but HR amongst a majority of job roles and, I’d assume, personal life functions too. Yet this amateur thinker presents a hypothesis for AI and for jobs that gives us a happy ending. I doubt you’d find it too hard, either, to write part 2 of this article and to think of a few more attributes of your family, friends and colleagues that go beyond plastic and don’t reflect the concepts of chips cooked-up thus far….
In a next blog, therefore, I’ll explore a new age of reason and a theme close to us at Phase 3 Consulting, where we promote the notion that success with technology relies on people. As people we think, but when Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” he was conscious of a bit more to that consciousness and altogether a bit more soul.
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