Artificial intelligence societal impacts and critical decisions
Running head: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 1
Artificial Intelligence: Societal Impacts and Critical Decisions
Western Oregon University
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Artificial Intelligence: Societal Impacts and Critical Decisions
Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) a possibility? In July of 2017, Facebook announced that AI
chatbots are capable of inventing their own language (Maney, 2017). For the first time, many
who believe artificial intelligence to be a futuristic concept awoke to the idea that AI is much
more advanced than publicly shared. In the same month, Elon Musk cautioned that Artificial
Intelligence and autonomous weaponry warrant regulation. Musk explains, “Once there is
awareness…people will be extremely afraid, as they should be” (S.W., 2017). Reactions to the
recent announcements depend on personal perspective of AI. Some may, as Musk purports, fear
the technology. There is one more pressing issue - Since organizations, for proprietary reasons,
do not tend to share AI advancements, it is difficult to know how far advanced this type of
technology has become. Certainly, computer power is increasing daily.
While it is difficult to know how far advanced this technology has become, societal
impacts and responsibilities related to AI cannot be ignored. In order to provide insight into
implications of artificial intelligence, seven critical areas relating to AI’s impacts and social
responsibility will be examined in this paper. Past perspectives have shown a mixed-view of the
impact of AI on humanity. Still, we are further than we know – Artificial intelligence is not only
discussed as a possibility by thought-leaders, but recent developments support this view.
Theorists estimate that AI will dramatically change how work will be performed in the future. In
addition, AI will have a role in public discourse through social media projects. Integration of AI
and ambient computing at home will impact individual care and routines. As artificial
intelligence becomes steeped in society, perceived threats should be acknowledged. Ultimately,
moving forward with AI will require regulation.
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Past and Current Perspectives
In the past, some theorists viewed AI as impossible or threatening to society. Elon Musk
is not the only thought-leader who warns against AI. Past thought-leaders have participated in
the discussion on AI. For example, Ray Kurzweil (2005) would agree that humanity needs to
control artificial intelligence. He fears that machine learning will expand until it will be
impossible for humanity to control (2005). Other, past thought-leaders doubted the reality of AI.
Joseph Weizenbaum (1968) doubts that AI will become capable of independent thought. In fact,
Weizenbaum presupposes that AI, although capable of great processing power, will be limited to
the information provided by human counterparts. Hubert Dreyfus supports Weizenbaum’s
limited view of AI. To Dreyfus, AI is an interesting, but unachievable, idea. Dreyfus uses past
failures with AI programming to indicate that the approach to developing AI is flawed and future
progress is not possible (2004). Whether one agrees with a cautionary view of AI or not, other
perspectives should be examined.
There are exceptions to the pessimistic view of AI – Some thought-leaders agree that AI
may be helpful to humanity. Although we are collecting data, human capabilities are falling short
of processing such large amounts of data. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier regard
data as “…the raw material of business, a vital economic input, used to create new economic
value” (2013, p. 5). As computing power expands, artificial intelligence can provide clear
recommendations to complex and vast pieces of data. IBM’s Watson is being marketed as an
Artificial Intelligence to help business utilize large amounts of data and make critical decisions.
Rushkoff indicates that new innovations, like AI, drive commerce: ‘On an innovation landscape
now characterized by flow, capital competes for vehicles in which to invest” (Rushkoff, 2013, p.
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45). Although Rushkoff’s view is held in as a general view on technology, the view can be
applied to AI - An investment in AI could result in positive economic impact to society.
We Are Further Than We Know
Current progress supports the claims by critics of AI who suggest that this type of
technology is possible. Stephen Hawking compares AI to a computer virus capable of improving
and replicating itself until it outperforms humans (Conley, 2017). Although Hawking views
replication negatively, Ray Kurtzweil estimates that AI replication would allow technology to
partner with the human body (2005). For Kurzweil (2005), intelligent computing could allow
hybrid biological and non-biological processes work together. As a project manager for IBM’s
Watson, Neil Sahota would applaud Kurzweil’s vision. Sahota explains, “We can do more with
Artificial Intelligence than we can disclose to the public” (2017). IBM’s Watson has proven to be
a prime example of intelligent computing. Watson is IBM’s AI platform for business that is able
to process large amounts of data and make intelligent recommendations. For IBM, Watson’s
victory on Jeopardy was more than an example of AI surpassing human intelligence, it was a
public illustration of the complex thinking of which machines are capable (Sahota, 2017). John
Markoff references Google’s self-driving car to illustrate the vast improvements made into the
field of AI in recent years (2016). As AI capabilities increase, so does potential societal impacts.
AI and The Future of Work
Most theorists seem to agree that AI will dramatically change the way society performs
work. Richard and Daniel Susskind suggest that much of the work performed by humans will be
assumed by AI counterparts. Audrey Watters agrees with this perspective, “We are, some say, on
the cusp of a great revolution in artificial intelligence and as such a great revolution in human
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labor” (2014, p. 6). Watters is not the only one who recognizes recent and future developments
in AI. Richard and Daniel Susskind (2017) use IBM’s Watson as an estimation of progress with
It is interesting to note, harking back again to the exponential growth of information
technology, that the hardware on which Watson ran in 2011 was said to be about the size
of the average bedroom. Today, we are told, it runs on a machine that is the size of three
pizza boxes, and by the early 2020s Watson will sit comfortably in a smartphone.
In the future, critical roles could be replaced by intelligent computing. Doctors, teachers,
lawyers, and other roles may be filled by AI, “…new kinds of machines…can replace part, if not
all, of certain kinds of professional work” (Susskind, 2017, p. 26). John Markoff, however,
counters that there are limits to the type of robot automation and refutes the idea that machines
would assume the sole responsibility for work that requires intelligent thought (2016). Markoff
does estimate that technology will allow a reduction of manual labor and will free up resources
and time for other tasks (2016). Do not mistake that Markoff’s skepticism of AI capabilities as
an indication that humanity will not be displaced in workforce roles. Markoff cautions, “The
same technologies that extend the intellectual power of humans can displace them as well”
(Markoff, 2016, p. 37). Ultimately, progress in artificial intelligence research continues to lead to
a greater involvement and impact on humanity.
AI And The Public Conversation
The integration of AI and social media indicates a current involvement in a public
conversation. IBM’s Cognitive Dress project is one example of AI and social media working
together to communicate to targeted groups of individuals. Through an algorithm, Watson
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interpreted social media Tweets and interpreted the tone of the messages (Sahota, 2017). These
messages were relayed to a dress wired with lights that changed colors based on the tone of the
social media texts. Watson was able to accurately interpret the emotional undertones of messages
and make the coordinating color light up in the cognitive dress (Sahota, 2017). This project is
valuable to the discussion on AI because it illustrates that Watson was powerful enough to
interact with and interpret social messages. Furthermore, this AI accurately responded to the
messages. With evidence that AI can have an impact on social conversations, it is even more
important to examine the types of conversations on which AI can have an impact.
From medical monitoring to online social media chatbots, AI is being used to
communicate with consumers through the use of natural language on the individual level.
Facebook’s investigation into chatbots may have spurred public concern early in 2017, but it is
not the first company to have used AI to communicate with potential consumers (Maney, 2017).
Previously, scientists began developing AI that could use natural language to communicate.
A.L.I.C.E. was developed over twenty years ago to meet this goal. Many individuals who
engaged in conversations with A.L.I.C.E. did not realize they were talking to a machine.
Currently, chatbots are being used by doctors to diagnose conditions and by patients to warn of
potential conditions (Lockman, et al, 2009). One example is a project which used chatbots to
help diabetic patients to analyze symptoms and take recommended actions. Because diabetes
cannot be cured, management of this health condition on a regular basis using chatbots provides
an added resource for patients. Ultimately, Lori Andrews warns against a reduction in privacy
when private conversations become public a matter of public record (Andrews, 2012). Whether
AI is engaging in medical or social media conversations, the records of the conversations will be
saved. Involvement of AI in storing, analyzing, and using past conversations to improve future
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recommendations may further reduce privacy. There is another area in which AI’s ability to
communicate may be even more sobering.
Technology exists that can communicate directly with the human body; and, AI would be
able to mediate the communication. Karen Platoni uses the term biohacking to explain
technology’s ability to manipulate the human experience, “If using technology to manipulate
what happens inside your head seems like a futuristic proposition, just consider one of mankind’s
earliest perception-shaping devices: the timepiece” (Platoni, 2015, p. 36). Kevin Warwick,
Director of Project Cyborg, would agree. As one of the first to implant a chip in his arm that
would allow him to alter the human experience, he was able to prove that manipulating human
biology using technology is possible (Warwick, 2004). Not only are individuals able to
communicate directly with bodily processes, AI is being introduced to mediate the
communication. George Dvorsky predicts that “Steady advances in computing processing power
are leading many experts to conclude that human-equivalent artificial intelligence may be
attainable by the year 2040, if not sooner” (2008). While the intention of the technology is to
give individuals the ability to enhance their experience, introducing AI could reduce individual
control over biological communication. Where Dvorsky’s argument falls short is that AI is
already being used to mediate messages between medical professionals and the human body, and
results are largely positive. From early detection of cancer to computer-aided diagnosis of
medical conditions, artificial intelligence is mediating communication between physicians and
the human body. Ambient computing is another area in which AI will extend its reach.
Integration of AI and Ambient Computing At Home
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Ambient computing expands the reach of AI in public spaces and in the home.
Leveraging the power of the internet, computers use sensors and devices to produce immediate
responses to human requests. Ambient intelligence devices are used to mediate communication
between individuals and the Internet of Things. Siri, Alexa, Moto, Echo and other tools use
natural language understanding and automated speech recognition to resolve requests and locate
information from the internet. The opportunities for ambient intelligence to positively impact the
human experience are plentiful. Kleinberger et al., “Ambient Intelligence in Assisted Living:
Enable Elderly People to Handle Future Interfaces,” contend that AMI is able to assist elderly to
communicate in emergency situation thereby improving response time and providing additional
resources for emergency responders (2007). Additionally, mobile learning is enhanced through
AMI. From vocational training to higher education and K-12 teaching for adults and children,
access to education is increased when coupled with ambient intelligence tools (Lokman, et al,
2014). Audrey Watters (2014) predicts an “efficiency and automation in education: intelligent
tutoring systems, artificially intelligent textbooks, robo-graders, and robo-readers.” These
devices are designed to be woven into the infrastructure of the human experience.
The reach and data access of ambient intelligence (AMI) leads to a discussion of trust and
reliability. Don Norman (2013) suggests that computing devices are more reliable when designed
with the human experience in mind.
With complex devices and commercial and industrial processes, the resulting difficulties
can lead to accidents, injuries, and even deaths. It is time to reverse the situation: to cast
the blame upon the machines and their design. It is the machine and its design that are at
fault. It is the duty of machines and those who design them to understand people.
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In addition to reliability, trust is an issue. Questions of trust arise when AMI accesses and stores
household, business, and individual data. The connection between AI and ambient computing
also introduces issues of privacy. These issues are important to consider as we move forward
Moving Forward With AI
Introducing computer technology that is powerful enough to supplement or take over
human thinking needs to be mediated. Advancements in AI have potential impacts that extend
beyond the borders of the United States. In 2017, the United Nations formed an ad hoc
committee to gain deeper understanding into actions that should be taken to respond to
advancements in AI (Sahota, 2017). As AI capabilities increase, society is at risk of losing a
guiding role in organizations, public conversation, and individual involvement in the workforce.
If AI is cheaper to organizations than traditional labor, the potential for humanity’s displacement
in the labor market should be acknowledged and regulated (Markoff, 2016). The collection and
use of data should be publicly declared and individual rights to privacy should be protected
globally. Discussions on mediating AI access to drones and remote sensing capabilities should be
held. The discussion becomes more complex when one acknowledges that Freedom of
Information Act provides public access to surveillance records in the U.S., but not in other
nations (Lynch, Foot, 2015). What does this mean for AI and individuals in the U.S. who will
have their public records accessible throughout the world? Other potential threats may arise with
the use of artificial Intelligence.
Issues relating to privacy and security suggest that regulations are needed. The increasing
amounts of data compounds the issue and makes protecting privacy difficult (Onsrud, 2008).
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Susskind explains that “As late as 2000…only 25 per cent of the world’s stored information was
in a digital form. Today that proportion is 98 per cent” (Susskind, 2017, p. 102). The exponential
growth of data provides resources that companies and individuals do no currently have the
processing power to utilize. However, AI would be able to process this data and provide
recommendations. To be precise, AI would be able to make decisions about the uses of public
and private data separate from any human influence. For many organizations and individuals, the
idea that AI would control data or influence public opinion is unbelievable. Yet, it is possible. As
a result of current concerns, laws and regulations for AI are being introduced and revised
(O’Reilly, 2009). Still, many involved in the conversation are still debating the nature of
oversight and control needed. While some individuals believe that surveillance should not be an
issue for those who do not have anything to hide, others believe that privacy is a basic right and
due process should be followed (Solove, 2011). The issue of basic rights and due process
becomes even more critical when surveillance is mediated by an artificial intelligence (Andrews,
2012). To compound the issue, technology is capable of filtering information to individuals
(Pariser, 2012). When AI is involved, filtering information extends beyond altering Google
search results to larger implications. Based on pre-defined criteria, AI may withhold information
from individuals. While the concept of personalization is intended to augment the human
experience, it also limits it. Pariser argues that “While technology’s job is to show you the world,
it sits between you and the world like a camera lens (2012, p. 15). In this sense, filters can
disconnect or provided a skewed version of the world. Basic issues of trust of and responsibility
for AI must be evaluated in terms of future benefits and risks.
Future implications of this technology suggest both benefits and risks. Costs and benefits
of this science are inseparable (Postman, 1998). The core issue is that, whether intentionally or
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unintentionally, AI may cause harm if not regulated (Markoff, 2016). Incorporating AI into one’s
daily experience may affect one’s experience of the world. Eli Pariser examines technology’s
ability to influence the human experience: “To be a good citizen, it’s important to be able to put
yourself in other people’s shoes and see the big picture. If everything you see is rooted in your
own identity, that becomes difficult or impossible” (2012, p. 45). In addition to limiting the
human experience, AI may be programmed to influence or control it directly. AI may be used for
harm or good. Hackers may use AI for social engineering attacks, while security professionals
may use AI to guard against information breaches. Kevin D. Mitnick suggest that it may be
helpful to remove human decision-making from the process of preventing information security
breaches, “The policies should require use of security technology whenever cost-effective to
remove human-based decision-making” (2002, p. 38). The discussion about artificial technology
is certainly complex. The impacts and critical decisions relating to AI technology are far from
Seven critical areas indicate that societal impacts and responsibilities related to AI cannot
be ignored. Reviewing past perspectives exposes a mixed-view of the impact of AI on humanity.
Current progress with AI continues to show that it is more than a possibility. AI will dramatically
change how we work. Public discourse will be impacted by AI. Ambient computing will extend
the reach of AI impacting individual care and routines. While leaders are examining potential
regulations, not enough is being done to educate the public about AI. Future efforts to educate
and involve the public could alleviate fears created by recent public statements from leaders in
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