You are raising a child, the non-human AI child.

To give you some background, I have spent a couple of weeks this year visiting my friends who are raising young children between the ages 3 months -4 years old. While I was visiting them, I found that two of the households used a Google Home or Amazon Alexa to make their otherwise busy lives a bit manageable. The Home or Alexa would be asked to do anything from ‘Read the News’, ‘Check the weather outside’ to ‘Play a song/rhyme for the child’ , ‘Turn the lights off’ or ‘find the travel distance between Point A to Point B’. It was my first personal encounter with families using these home devices at such a high frequency. It almost felt like there was an invisible person present in the room at all times. I joked with one of my friends saying, ‘this should make it easy for you to explain the existence of God who knows it all, is present everywhere (via different devices) and is invisible at the same time’.

Why do I say you are raising a child, the AI child? Much akin to raising a human offspring which begins learning i.e. begins developing a brain in the mother’s womb through conversations/sounds/smells etc., the Google Homes/Google Search/Alexas of the world are deployed around us to catch all the random unstructured talk that occurs in human life. We are familiar with the term Big Data (simply, lots of data which can be both random and or specific) and Artificial Intelligence to some extent either through our work or news or plain interest in the subject. Artificial Intelligence is use of technology to make machines learn and become intelligent. For machines to learn, there is an abundance of data that’s needed. Machines aren’t smart to begin with, but we are teaching them how to learn and making them ‘intelligent’. Most machine learning talks about ‘neural’ networks like the ones humans have in their brains which grow as we learn leading to creation of synaptic networks (my psych and tech influence coming together after all😊). As the number of people using these devices increases and the frequency with which each person uses them increases, the more unstructured data is available for the development of intelligence. Our everyday conversations, commands, questions, requests are being absorbed by the AI brain, multiply this by the various languages people speak, tones, dialects, subjects (math questions, grammar, history questions etc.) and of course the millions of people using these tools. Why is this unstructured data? Simply said, it is random and may not always have a logical cause and effect relationship.

The question that arises here is do you know and think of this in terms of raising a ‘non-human’ being? Is this a wanted or unwanted child? Do we have a collective voice which holds any weight in choosing which of these technological advancements we truly want? I don’t think so. In my opinion we at least ought to know what we are getting ourselves into to the extent that we can as of today. Researchers in a lab may be aware of most ill effects of their inventions but they don’t always have the freedom to share it. Would you have wanted to know the potential harmful side effects of using DDT, RoundUp, Birth Control Pills, Genetically Modified Organisms besides what was declared on the label? I would want to believe Yes since that impacts our lives today and those of the future generations. Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and smartphones currently plague our lives, impact our sleep, hormonal balance and brain development. No one while developing it or selling it to us told us that the above technological advancements could be carcinogenic, cause health issues and also cause unintended harm to our planet. We were only told about the benefits.

The other question is, do you care to know? My short answer to this is, you may not care today but very soon you will need to when you/your children are forced to live with the consequences. We think that we are using the devices for our convenience but not many of us are consciously aware that we are also part of one of the biggest human experiments. Our life and life experiences are being fed to a machine so that it learns and grows. We spend our money to buy these devices and we also give free data to be used simply by using the device. We like to think that we are in control but often, we are not in control of how our data is being used. In most scientific experiments conducted, the ‘experimental’ group is aware that their observations/reactions/responses will be recorded as a part of the study. Are we as a consumer group made aware that our data is being used for non-human being machines to grow?

Am I against feeding data for machine learning? No. If I am not against it then where is this going? I am urging you to think about Ethics.  Ethics of being a part of the experiment and ethics around the development of such artificial intelligence. The 3 main issues here are that of Informed Consent, Data Privacy, and Client/Consumer Welfare.

Informed Consent: From the experimental standpoint, if you are raising a child, you should have some rights, the least of it is to know that you indeed have a child and that you agree to raise it. This would be Informed Consent. I understand that Google owns all the data we have ‘shared’ with it’s applications but as an unaware participant in an experiment, I think someone ought to ask me before they decide to use the data from my Gmail Account/Facebook account to improve their AI. Am sure that some type of blanket or umbrella statement/disclaimer exists somewhere but that won’t cut it or shouldn’t cut it.

The second issue is about Privacy. Each of the applications nowadays come with a set of permissions you can deny/allow. Let’s be honest and admit that not many of us read through the privacy policies. We are shocked when we read articles that most online marketers are privy to data about consumers(us) which we may not always have explicitly agreed to share. Each application comes with some basic data it needs for you to sign up, for example, email address/google sign on/facebook sign on. Online marketers have access to data which connects these unrelated dots i.e. email address and name on one website with credit card, purchase data, address, age, income from another. How would it be if your doctor/lawyer/therapist said that he/she owns your data and has rights to share with anyone he/she pleases to simply because you visited for a consultation?

Even if you don’t care much for the above 2 I think you should care about Client/Consumer Welfare. Who gets to define what is welfare?  The point here is that of instilling a sense of ‘Intentionality’ in the field of AI. An intention to create a non-human being which aids in human advancement and not harm us or be amenable to harmful uses. As of today, humans are constantly coding and improving AI and like most other human inventions, this is open to flaws/consequences-both intended and unintended in the future. Not all uses can be known when a code is being written but we do have enough experiential data to know that any innovation can be used to both help and harm our current existence. The differentiator is the intention of the creator and the user. There are some talks about wanting to develop super intelligence in AI beings. I have also read about wanting to upload intelligence from a living brain of a dead person into AI, so it could learn and develop faster. What are the safeguards in place if these AI beings are able to recreate their own versions in the future? Who should be held accountable for the current though process in development and the vastly open ground of unimagined uses in the future? If you and I are not explicitly agreeing to raise this child, would we assume responsibility for it’s consequences since silence at times is treated as consent? If we can have viruses/bugs that trump vaccines/medications created by humans, who is to say that this so called helpful AI technology won’t assert it’s will on us?

I have some ideas on how to proceed with instilling a more ethical approach in AI.  This would of course need a lot more detailing/discussing when someone decides to implement any of these.

  • Ethics and governance
    • Like many other professions, Engineers should be asked to follow a code of Ethics – to do no harm and be a whistle blower when they can sense a potential misuse
    • Some form of Board of Ethics utilizing members from all walks of life i.e. Doctors, Lawyers, Artists, Philosophers, Scientists, Teachers, Engineers who can
      • debate the potential uses/misuses of a piece of code and disclose the same to the public
      • define ‘Client Welfare’ for each Project.
      • define a set of overarching principles which lay down basics of helpful/harmful uses.

These should be a rotating set of members who get randomly assigned to projects. This should help minimize some external influences from people who have monetary interests in the project.

  • Once the framework of helpful and harmful uses has been established, public can vote on whether they would like to see the effort take life or not.
  • Track the cognitive development of the AI body as you would track for a human child or develop something close to that.
    • Until the AI body is considered to be a minor, the parent i.e. the company developing the AI should accept responsibility for any and every harm the AI body caused- known or unintended. In my opinion we should definitely begin this with self driving cars who are still developing their own sense of judgement.
    • Once the AI body is deemed to be an Adult, implement a system of Shared responsibility between Users, Creators and the Creation (since it will have intelligence) . For example, if a user is attempting to use the digital technology for human trafficking then warn the user and allow him/her to rescind the process, if the user chooses to ignore the warning then share the user’s IP address/details with local law enforcement authorities. The creator i.e. the engineers/companies should be asked to code in a way that the AI body is able to determine if a use could cause harm to any person/group. The AI being should also be coached in/fed with data from philosophy, liberal arts, social sciences so that it can develop it’s own sense of helpful/harmful uses which is in alignment with overall human and planet welfare.

How to make this check and balance system ‘money and power proof’ will be a question that will need to be answered.

We know that AI is going to change our experience of being human as have other recent technological advancements. I shall leave you with a few thought clouds for you to ponder upon:

  • Can we make an effort to be pro-active by involving diverse minds to foresee the risks and impacts?
  • Can we think beyond the first order consequences and wonder about the psycho-social, spiritual and environmental impacts during the process of creation?
  • Can we let common people have a say instead of simply forcing this new unforeseen age on everyone?

Thought Library:

Connectivity…in the world of computers and life(read lives).

It is said that GOD or the supreme power by which ever name you wish to call HIM, is the master of all creations. Very appropriately and beautifully so he installed the hardware and software in us. The software being one that keeps learning , growing over a period of time which could run into days/ months/ years and lives. The hardware(read – the human body) being subject to constant wear and tear needs to be renewed or discarded and then a new one is provided to continue the journey of learning. The hardware is needed as an instrument for the software to be expressed, to enable voice to feelings/ emotions. Much like the current computer systems it only when you have a monitor that you can see what is in the software and make required changes or work through the use of the Key board, while processing the information through the C.P.U. The important word here is work “through”.

Sometimes I wonder why is it so easy for us to accept the phenomenon of the world being a Global village but difficult for us to even acknowledge the fact that the entire universe is connected, that all happenings around us, in our life, are connected with something that we refer to as past and will flow into the so called future. May be it is easier to understand the language of cables/ wires/ radio stations / ports that we setup but not acknowledge something similar that HE set up. We all are limited or shall I say we choose to limit ourselves to the vision our eyes provide while being open. In the world of computers it is well accepted that there exists connectivity and that we can reach out to anybody in any part of the world, then why is it so difficult for us to appreciate the phenomenon of telepathy/ clairvoyance/ Extra sensory perceptions (ESP). This could be because it is easier to believe that we are the hardware and that nothing else beyond that if of significance.

What is written above is a premise being built by the writer to explain something deeper…Go on…

Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the WHYs of life, For example- Why was I born in the family that I was and not in any other? Why is it that the Mom and Dad I have are given to me in such a relationship and not any other? Why is it that some people seem to come in life for a period and then apparently go away?

I got my answers in nature, through reading, observations, introspection and a spiritual organization. All the answers lie in this connectivity. There have always been and will be debates on when the universe began and when will it come to an end because anything found by a human being a relative statement is open for debate. Everything around us is a continuity which we fail to see and appreciate. When you look at the surface, you will find a tree grown in a particular spot, when you look inside the ground, you will find its roots spread far beyond what you can see. All the plants and trees around us do not have seeds sowed by a human being, they have existed much before. Further to this, I would take the analogy of accountancy which is primarily based on two roles, a creditor and a

debtor. One who takes has to return it to the one who has given to settle the books of accounts. What happens between the two is termed as a transaction and it is this transaction or the collection of dues that brings the two into a relationship.

Similarly so, in our lives, the people given to us and who we are given to in whatever relationship as it exists, is out of the creation of some transactions over a period of time( read births) and the settlement of the account of deeds is what brings us into relationships of different intensities. A level higher is that our transactions are for our learning and growth. The creation is so beautiful and perfect that you are given just the kind of experiences through different relationships that you need to become or to discover the beauty of the universe and its happenings.

Another parallel analogy is that of a school. Every standard / class has a particular level of syllabus and subjects which are made to suit the grasping power of a child having average intelligence. The idea is to help the student learn and graduate to different levels. For example, English is a subject that continues right from the beginning to say 15 years of education. Every year the scope of the subject widens and we learn more. Different relationships are given to us to learn different things. The beauty of it is in the variety that exists.

Guess, this should be a good start for many of us who keep wondering/ pondering…