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AI, Now or future? Living or Nonliving?

AI, Now or future? Living or Nonliving?

A phone can now unlock your phone only if your eyes are open. A program taught itself to play chess and master chess players are learning from it. A search engine can predict what you want sometimes better than you know it yourself. These are just a few examples of how artificial intelligence have changed the way I live on the daily. But, this doesn’t mean I am not skeptical. Coming from the Silicon Valley, I am skeptical over the hottest part of the technology innovation, AI. Learning and discussing about AI brings excitement and yet, plenty of anxiety. A few weeks ago I attended ‘“Where’s My Data?” A Talk on Internet Data Collection’ with Keith Ross, Clay Shirky and Roopa Vasudevan which brought my anxiety and excitement to a new level as I learned how data and AI influence our current activities.

AI, is it now or future? AI, is it living or nonliving? In this blog, I will take a closer look at these two points of conflict and show how they shape our view and acceptance of artificial intelligence today.

Courtesy of NYUSH

Now or Future?

My mom doesn’t believe in artificial intelligence. She has many reasons not to as she is comfortable with the technology we have today. Time plays an important factor to how we accept this innovation. A big part of my curiosity regarding the push to accept AI came from a friend in the industry. He wanted to work on an idea which he needed to add a few cameras in houses to collect data on what we do at home. And, sadly it didn’t work out. It might not be surprising to many that we value privacy. We don’t want to share our every move with strangers behind a camera. So, when will we allow it? This is the question I proposed at the end of the talk to the panelist.

“Edge vs Center” said Clay Shirky. For every innovation, it takes time. When a technology is first introduced, it is on the ‘edge’. In terms of cameras in homes, the current home integration includes cameras that watches over babies, nannies and airbnb guests. We are able to accept cameras in our homes because it serves a purpose. As with time, we will get more comfortable with these cameras and move the possibilities toward the ‘center’. It is hard to define how long it would take for us to reach that level of comfortability but the future doesn’t seem too far away.

Living or Nonliving?

AI takes many forms, some remains as software and others are addition to hardware. Robot is one example. Researches have shown that humans aren’t a big fan of robots that look real, living, and human-like. In a paper by the International Journal of Social Robotics, “Blurring Human–Machine Distinctions: Anthropomorphic Appearance in Social Robots as a Threat to Human Distinctiveness,” it points out that social robots are created like humans and its disapproval comes from the fact that it threaten the distinctiveness of the human category. This reminded me of the concept mentioned in class called the Uncanny Valley. The concept of ‘the uncanny’ by Freud can be interpreted as when we see something that is scary and frightening but also familiar. In this case, a human-like looking robot reminds us of ourselves but something is also off and unfamiliar. Specifically, we want nonliving things to stay looking nonliving as we hold ourselves as the superior living being. Any lost of control over such hierarchy seem to threaten our race. If we take a look at many of the smart robots sold to kids as tutors, they rarely look like human. Rather, they stay looking like computers (the ones that have legs actually creep me out a bit).

After attending the event, I felt I had a better grasp of what the future of AI, data and robots might shape our lives. But as the future remains forward-looking, we need to have a better grasp of the conflicts and skepticisms that slow the progress for development. I am looking forward for the future and so should you.

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Philosophy of Technology at NYU Shanghai, a course by Anna Greenspan and Brad Weslake.