When I first started out in communications, I felt enormously lucky to have a job that enabled me to do something I found interesting, make a living and learn things about the world that I never learned in school. This was in the days before the internet, so my co-workers and I relied on the prevailing media of the time: print, radio and TV, along with the United States Postal Service. One day, I received a letter at work. The envelope had no return address, but it had a postmark from a Western state. Inside was a hand-written, anonymous note that I can still remember clearly some 30 years later. The writer addressed me by name and accused me of being “a money-sucking pig” for supporting the work of a large, sinister energy company. I was dumbstruck: Until that moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the work I was so proud of – however modest – might be cause for shame.
As with all tools at our disposal, the issue with AI isn’t whether it’s good or evil; it’s whether we are. Complicating matters is that, regardless of our actions, we humans lack the capacity to see ourselves as anything but good. Am I a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Am I a compassionate provider of medical care or the murderer of an unborn child? Am I a money-sucking pig, or a kid fresh out of school trying to do right by his client?
Part of what made that early experience so significant for me was the embarrassing realization that I’d been so busy learning to use the tools of my trade that I hadn’t taken time to question the long-term impact of my work. I was focused on a very narrow set of goals – media coverage, message pull-through, opinion poll results. I can’t say for sure whether I was nailing those metrics, any more than I can say I was working in service to good or evil. But I can confidently say that I wasn’t doing much to prevent the crises we all face today.
“Despite calls for policy makers to halt its development, AI is here to stay. As we incorporate it into our work, we need to be aware of its impact not only on our productivity, but also on our own psychology.”
Despite calls for policy makers to halt its development, AI is here to stay. As we incorporate it into our work, we need to be aware of its impact not only on our productivity, but also on our own psychology. It’s not enough for our goals to be big, hairy and audacious; they also need to be brave, hopeful and altruistic. We may not be able to avoid unintended consequences, but if we pay careful attention to the impact of our actions on other people, other communities, other generations and other forms of life, there’s less chance that we’ll one day look back and realize we were no better than terrorists, murderers and money-sucking pigs.
Click here for more thoughts on artificial intelligence from iQ 360 principal, Steve Astle.