This is the second in a two-part article on Is AI lowering your IQ? In the first part, we discussed the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and how companies are slowly ‘technumbing’ our brains. As a result, the technology we use may be ‘dumbing’ us down. Now, we’ll look at how our reliance on technology gives us blind faith in how companies use our data, and what we can do to live intelligently in a technology-driven world.
Our reliance on technology is giving us blind faith
If you use the Internet, and especially if you use social media, then it is a certainty that your personal browsing habits and activity data are being mined. It’s concerning how much data people provide either knowingly or unknowingly to corporations through what seems like innocent activities such as making a Facebook post or writing a tweet or sending an email via Gmail. When this data is passed into the wrong hands, or companies begin to mine their massive databases to detect patterns and information in our own daily lives that cannot be easily seen by our human eyes or minds, the consequences can be detrimental. It also raises privacy issues for how we are being monitored and studied.
How many of us truly know what analysis is being made about our lives behind the curtain of a website? Will companies have the moral ethics to do the ‘right thing’ with this data? Will this data be used to help us live more intelligently or hinder our intellectual progress and wellbeing?
In the wrong hands, AI is all about power, control, and profits
While enterprise adoption of AI hasn’t fully taken hold, some of the big companies have embraced it because of the revenue potential it provides. One of the biggest concerns with the increase of AI is when the new technology is guided by a capitalist and profit-focused agenda; then, only the wealthy 1 percent would benefit and not the rest of us.
You may or may not remember that in the 1980s when computer usage became more widespread, it was proclaimed that people would eventually work less because computers would help us do more in less time. Now, fast forward to 2020, forty years later – has this happened?
In some sectors, technology has automated tasks and there have been job losses or underemployment. In other industries such as call centres, retail, and e-commerce, technology has made us work longer or stay awake during night shift hours due to the impact of different time zones.
There may be a golden glow about AI being sold to us, but who really benefits? The wealthy. And as a direct consequence of consuming and using so-called ‘smart’ technology, the rest of us are becoming less intelligent because we are using our external devices more and our internal computers, or brains, less. This is causing an even larger gap between the wealthy and the poor.
When individuals lose the ability to make decisions and think through problems themselves they become disempowered and are left at the mercy of those in political and financial power.
How corporations are using AI – rightly and wrongly
In recent years, companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Google have made major investments in AI. If you have conducted searches on Google or Amazon, you would have experienced the effects of machine learning when you view the search results and ‘recommended product suggestions’ – these selections are all customised based on your browsing and purchasing history. The revenues of companies using AI to reduce fraud and bad debt and boost product sales have rapidly increased as a result.
In March 2017, Facebook launched a project to prevent suicide using AI algorithms. By scanning users’ posts and messages, they can identify people with suicidal tendencies, refer them to a human modifier, and then connect the person with support or helpful information. Numerous privacy experts have raised concerns about whether the company can be trusted with new health information about users. The company is not a health authority, and therefore it is not subject to the same privacy laws and standards as healthcare providers.
Only two months after Facebook announced its suicide prevention project, a leaked confidential document revealed that Facebook had collated data to know when teens were feeling ‘insecure’, ‘worthless’, ‘stressed’, or ‘defeated’ and then the company shared this information with a potential advertiser. The intention was to micro-target advertisements in real time to these insecure teens with the aim of selling them something.
In the absence of government regulation, social media companies are left to police themselves regarding data use. Citizens, as social media users, need to take responsibility for ensuring these firms uphold their privacy, don’t misuse their personal data, and don’t share it without gaining their consent. It’s a challenging task for individuals to undertake, especially when these companies keep growing in power and revenue.
What can we do about it?
In this era of a technology-driven society, we need to be more vigilant of the signs that our brain capacities and abilities are actually decreasing. We need to analyse our own lives and habits and make decisions about how we learn, engage, and interact with our environment.
Just because AI has the potential for harmful consequences doesn’t mean we should get rid of it. It’s how we use it and the intention behind it that matters most. Just like a knife can be used to save a life or take a life depending on whether it is in the hands of a surgeon or a murderer, so too AI could be used to have positive or negative consequences based on who guides its usages and with what motivation.
Humanity currently faces many challenges. The greatest challenges lie in the areas of mental health, environment, violence, cancer, and poverty. If we can use the power of AI to help face global challenges as opposed to being used to solve personal tasks, then AI could be a brilliant ally for our future. But this will only be possible if kindness, compassion, and selflessness become the guiding mindset rather than greed, power, and self-interest.
Furthermore, if we focus on enhancing human abilities and not replacing them, then we can have the best of both worlds. And taking it one step further, wouldn’t it be incredible if we could use AI to increase the capabilities of the human brain, so we as humans optimally utilize the enormous capacity of our minds for a more harmonious world.
Go back to the first article: Is AI lowering your IQ? Part I
Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020