In a society where humans seem to constantly be intentionally and unintentionally interacting with AI technologies, collaboration may not be quite possible, writes the author. Picture: iStock
Our fear of AI is misplaced precisely because we ascribe human capabilities and wrongly assign them moral agency simply because they can appear and act in ways that can be interpreted through anthropomorphic frameworks, writes Mpho Tshivhase.
Late last year, the Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) hosted a presidential roundtable themed: “Frankenstein or Gods? The Impact of the New Technologies on What It Means to Be Human”. I was part of a panel that engaged with political scientist Professor Margaret Levi’s keynote address.
Levi expressed concern over the future and governance of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, and her overarching analysis involved a consideration of the underlying social problems. She pointed to the problem of power inequality as it related to corporate monopoly, technical expertise of the programmers versus the lack of said expertise by the end user, as well as the dependence and addiction that leads to human concession of control.
Furthermore, she identified the weaponisation of technology, the biased nature of algorithms, legal and illegal data/identity theft, as well as AI technology taking over human jobs among the fear-inspiring advances of technology.
Levi argued that was impossible for AI to take human jobs because robots were “savant nerds” without emotional intelligence and self-consciousness. She maintained that the reservations that humans displayed in response to AI technologies pointed to the anticipation of machines dominating humans, which was met with a strong human desire to dominate AI.
Paradigm of collaboration
The fear of being dominated and the desire to dominate machines operates within the wrong paradigm of domination. She recommended viewing the relation between AI and humans using the paradigm of collaboration.
While I agree with Levi’s conclusion that talk of domination is the wrong paradigm with which to capture the relationality between AI and humans, I am not convinced that the alternative paradigm is collaboration.
Apart from anthropomorphising AI, the language of collaboration is value laden and it invokes AI agency. It is a categorical mistake to think that AI possesses the kind of agency that enables collaboration with humans. Collaboration would require empathy, ethics, tacit knowledge and other forms of comprehensive knowledge, among other values that enable equitable participation among agents.
Levi rightly argued that AI technologies could not learn ethics, compassion and other forms of comprehensive knowledge.
They are instruments that cannot have agency in the way humans understand agency.
While they might have mechanical autonomy, AI cannot be said to be praiseworthy (gods) or blameworthy (Frankensteins). It is the designers and programme developers who can be gods or Frankensteins.
Herein I agree with Levi’s suggestion that AI research and design should not be left to technocrats alone – it should necessarily involve transdisciplinary collaborations that can create systems that respect and uphold ethical values that minimise the violation of human lives.
What we ought to be mindful of in our interaction with and use of AI technologies involves acute consideration of our ethical futures.
This will necessarily involve a culture change, which includes consideration of ethical and societal consequences related to the design and design research of AI technologies; planning and mitigating for expected harms and being able to conscientiously choose not to create a harmful…