AI & Our Memories: TED Circles (Free)
Updated: Jul 23
This insights report is a recap of the TED Circles: AI & Our Memories discussion held on Sat February 27, 2021 10–11:30am ET. transform this hosted TED Circles are a free, online, safe and inclusive place to connect with innovators from all over the globe. This workshop included representation from at least 7 countries, with audience from 7 industries: government, technology, retail, fintech, clean tech, consulting, and education.
TED Circles' February 2021 theme is "Our memories". We live in the age of AI, which is feared by some and revered by others. For many, our memories and ability to think defines our humanity. Let's meet and discuss:
How can AI enhance our memories?
Can AI make us better human leaders?
What actions/ ethical considerations will avoid unintended harm from AI use?
For additional inspiration, watch these TEDx talks that represent the topic:
In light of the fact that we are living across geographic amid the ongoing global pandemic, the workshop started off with a fun and interactive exercise. Each participant had the opportunity to use Zoom’s annotation tool to draw out their name or anything which inspires them. The only instruction was that it should be presentable to even a 2 year-old. This high-energy group did not disappoint (see below).
How AI can improve our lives
We began the discussion by considering the TED Talk titled How AI can enhance our memory, work and social lives. In it, the speaker and co-creator of Siri, Tom Gruber, shares positive use cases of artificial intelligence. He provides contextual information on how AI can help to advance human capabilities as well as create opportunities to forge meaningful connections between individuals.
Daily activities can be simplified and enhanced using AI-powered personal assistants (i.e. Siri). Siri performs activities for humans, and can be used regardless of one’s identity or abilities. According to Gruber, the capabilities of personal assistants can be broadened to include the reinforcement of human intelligence and memory.
Tom Gruber: "Memory is the foundation of human intelligence, but human memory is famously flawed."
AI can be used to fill gaps in our memory as it is able to track and store detailed information pertaining to events and interactions, some of which the human brain tends to overlook. To improve memory, AI can take note of one’s daily activities, medical prescriptions, and food choices that are necessary for the maintenance of their health and well-being. Furthermore, our social lives can benefit from technology specializing in speech, text, and image recognition when we communicate with others. This technological advancement can transform the lives of individuals, particularly those who suffer from conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Gruber shares a use case that effectively outlines AI’s ability to augment human performance rather than replace it. He comparatively analyzes the ability of trained pathologists and artificial intelligence to detect cancer in samples. As indicated in the TED Talk, the machine classifier had a success rate of 92.5%, whereas the human being observed outcomes with 96.6% accuracy. When humans and AI are paired together, the precision of cancer detection increases to 99.5%. This example demonstrates the positive impact of marrying up the abilities of humans and technology to drive superhuman performance.
Will we lose control over AI?
Contrary to the TED Talk above, Sam Harris’s perspective in "Can we build AI without losing control over it?" sheds light on the opinion that AI is doomed to destroy human civilization. Harris reveals that the future of society rests on two possibilities: One is the cessation of technology development. This possibility is only likely in the event that a wide-scale disaster impacting civilization has taken place. The second option is an “intelligence explosion,” where the machines we build will outperform us, and any conflict between humans and robots can lead to our destruction.
Sam Harris: "The concern is really that we will build machines that are so much more competent than we are that the slightest divergence between their goals and our own could destroy us."
Harris says that even if AI does not lash out against human beings, the consequences can be grave. AI’s design allows it to improve efficiencies through automation and reduce menial labour, thereby de-skilling members of the working class society. Its implementation can amplify wealth inequalities, and lead to mass unemployment under the existing political and economic system.
If AI continuously improves, it can surpass us in intelligence and run the risk of threatening human existence. Society’s emotional response to this possibility is noteworthy to consider. We are awe-struck and fascinated by the doom that lies ahead in this science fiction-inspired world. When, in actuality, everyday people do not grasp the seriousness of the issue at hand (because there is no clear timeline for the implementation of super-intelligent AI). In turn, Harris encourages individuals to openly discuss and plan for AI's impact on their lives.
Other Point of Views
The workshop participants shared supplementary reading suggestions concerning AI and its impact on society. One of these recommendations is The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect. In it, author Judea Pearl discloses that artificial intelligence is not yet capable of replacing or outperforming human intelligence, as its current data-centric functionality cannot reason with "cause and effect", which the human brain does with ease.
Another suggested reading by Marnie Landon is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In this book, human mental capabilities are divided into 2 systems: “System 1” is defined by unconscious, fast reactions and intuitive decision-making. “System 2” includes slower, logical thinking that is associated with conceptualizing complex information. The author suggests the possibility of a hybrid AI system. As the term ‘hybrid’ insinuates, it will entail a combination of systems 1 and 2 through data-processing and capitalize on AI’s sizable cognitive bandwidth. This hybrid system can compliment the human behaviour of establishing “cause and effect,” as mentioned by Pearl, along with intuition and self-reflection, to create the optimal architecture for business and society to make decisions and solve problems.
Economic impact of AI
In Harvard Business Review’s “Building the AI-Powered Organization” article, authors Tim Fountaine, Brian McCarthy, and Tamim Saleh estimate that AI will contribute approximately $13 trillion to the global economy over the next 10 years. While this emerging technology will significantly impact the lives of individuals, there is considerable debate about the best method to incorporate AI into organizational structures.
The authors argue that critical tasks should be centralized in a “hub” led by an executive (i.e. Chief Data Officer). The day-to-day operations or execution of tasks should be grouped by the business unit or geographic region (i.e. a spoke) where a manager oversees performance. It is worthwhile to note that there is also a gray area, where tasks and execution are shared between the hub and the spoke.
Technology, in general, has contributed to some of the most significant events across history. From the Second World War’s use of nuclear bombs to the first moon landing which required semiconductor technology, these advances have helped pave the way for artificial intelligence and machine learning. AI is now seamlessly ingrained in our ability to communicate through automation and virtual chatbots which simulate real-life interactions. This integration marks the beginning of a new frontier where human intelligence and artificial intelligence must coexist.
As evidenced in this workshop, the development of artificial intelligence is inevitable, and it is advancing at an exponential pace. Although most technology is used to improve our work performance and personal interactions, some show concern about AI surpassing us as intelligent beings and resulting in a wide-scale catastrophe. Ultimately, there have always been controversies on whether this development should be viewed in an optimistic or pessimistic manner. As such, it is critical to have discussions now about harnessing the power of AI to ensure that it remains within our control.