Feel­ing dumb about AI

The Star Malaysia - StarBiz - - Viewpoint - Think Asian AN­DREW SHENG star­biz@thes­tar.com.my

THERE has been so much hype about AI that rock star his­to­rian turned fu­tur­ist Yu­val Noah Harari thinks that man (homo sapi­ens) will evolve into homo deus – al­most god-like through tech­nol­ogy and science con­quer­ing famine, war and pos­si­bly even death (Vin­tage Books, 2015).

We used to sus­pend be­lief through science fic­tion, un­til large parts of the gad­gets that we watched in Star Trek in the 1960s have all be­come re­al­ity. With the abil­ity of com­put­ers to beat the best hu­man Go cham­pion, science fic­tion is be­com­ing re­al­ity. The com­puter Al­pha Go can not only learn from hu­mans, but play and learn from games against it­self. The ma­chines are get­ting smarter than all of us.

The rea­son why Star Trek and other Sci-Fi movies are so pop­u­lar is be­cause they ex­plore in an en­ter­tain­ing way all the moral dilem­mas of science. Will ro­bots end up killing their mak­ers? When we in­ter­vene in a new planet, do we not kill off or change ir­re­versibly their life forms?

As science and tech­nol­ogy ad­vances to the point where we can edit our genes, we can cre­ate ei­ther ex­tended life or new mon­ster Franken­steins.

The first thing to re­mem­ber about AI is that it is a de­riv­a­tive of hu­man in­tel­li­gence. AI is the re­sult of cu­mu­la­tive hu­man knowl­edge, with each dis­cov­ery, each process, each in­no­va­tion, each new in­sti­tu­tion lead­ing to the open­ing of new fields of knowl­edge. We are at the edge of an ex­plo­sive field of new knowl­edge.

Cur­rent ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is the dis­cov­ery that knowl­edge ad­vances through al­go­rithms, de­fined as “a me­thod­i­cal set of steps that can be used to make cal- cu­la­tions, re­solve prob­lems and reach de­ci­sions” (Hariri, 2015, pg 83). You can pro­gramme a com­puter or ro­bot a set of al­go­rithms, learn­ing to learn and learn­ing to adapt. Per­haps com­put­ers can even learn how to iden­tify and write al­go­rithms.

The first thing you should re­mem­ber is that hu­man be­ings evolve through learn­ing and adap­ta­tion. That AI evolved from HI (hu­man in­tel­li­gence) is ex­actly like hu­mans in­vent­ing the first dumb tool, then a smart tool.

To­day, the smart­phone is the “one de­vice to rule them all”.... para­phras­ing Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

In­deed, the iPhone is al­ready loaded with sen­sors to read maps, mon­i­tor­ing your heart­beat and steps for health and Siri can an­swer your dumb ques­tions, with often dumb an­swers!

You don’t need a smart car full of things that you need to pro­gramme from scratch. You sim­ply need to plug in your smart­phone to rule your car. Whether you master the full ca­pac­ity of your iPhone is another mat­ter.

The speed of AI and tech­nol­ogy in gen­eral has been such that there are even those who think that this is end of man­u­fac­tur­ing, and there­fore the end of man­u­fac­tur­ing in China. Ex­trap­o­lat­ing in a lin­ear fash­ion is the com­mon mis­take that fu­tur­ol­o­gists make.

His­tory does not evolve in a straight line, but is shaped by con­flict­ing and co­op­er­a­tive forces the drive the evo­lu­tion in a non-lin­ear man­ner.

The present is a de­riv­a­tive of the past, just as the fu­ture will be a de­riv­a­tive of both the past and the present. Events un­fold in man­ners man has not been able to pre­dict with ac­cu­racy. Us­ing Big Data and prob­a­bil­ity math­e­mat­ics, AI en­ables us to ex­trap­o­late based on the best knowl­edge avail­able, but there will al­ways be an el­e­ment of un­cer­tainty – both known un­knowns and un­known un­knowns, in­clud­ing the un­know­able.

In his 1945 pa­per, The Use of Knowl­edge in So­ci­ety, No­bel Lau­re­ate philoso­pher/econ­o­mist Friedrich Hayek un­der­stood bet­ter than any of his con­tem­po­raries that knowl­edge does not come co­her­ently or ra­tio­nally, but in “dis­persed bits of in­com­plete and fre­quently con­tra­dic­tory knowl­edge which all the sep­a­rate in­di­vid­u­als pos­sess.” Thus, even the big­gest AI com­puter can­not play “Deux ex—machina”. It sim­ply does not com­pute (from all the un­cer­tain­ties around).

Mor­tal be­ings there­fore need not feel dumb or numb about smart ma­chines. The threat is not from ma­chines, but other hu­man be­ings us­ing smarter and bet­ter AI ro­bots as tools to reach speed, scale and scope.

This is not about man ver­sus ma­chine, but man ver­sus man (plus ma­chines). The com­pe­ti­tion be­tween man (and to­day, the na­tion-state) is such that ev­ery coun­try is try­ing to de­vise its own In­dus­try4.0 plan. The AI bat­tle has only just be­gun.

Hayek’s cen­tral in­sight is that we sim­ply can­not build the ul­ti­mate plan­ning ma­chine, be­cause the mar­ket or eco­nomic or­der works on the ba­sis of mil­lions (if not tril­lions) of de­cen­tralised de­ci­sions (eco­nomic and non-eco­nomic) that is su­pe­rior to the Mother of all Ma­chines.

He ar­gues that “in a sys­tem where the knowl­edge of the rel­e­vant facts is dis­persed among many peo­ple, prices can act to co­or­di­nate the sep­a­rate ac­tions of dif­fer­ent peo­ple in the same way as sub­jec­tive val­ues help the in­di­vid­ual to co­or­di­nate the parts of his plan.”

The irony of the world to­day is that in a sit­u­a­tion of dis­or­der, or­der wins, and in a sit­u­a­tion of or­der, dis­or­der wins.

We are in a sit­u­a­tion whereby the unipo­lar or­der is mov­ing into a mul­ti­po­lar or­der. The US is the lead­ing tech­nol­ogy na­tion, but the oth­ers are catch­ing up. Pres­i­dent Trump, who claims to have the high­est IQ of his team, has so far been stale­mated by Kim Jong-un, be­cause even if the US is far larger and more pow­er­ful eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily than North Korea, the fact that the lat­ter pos­sesses nu­clear bombs changes the game.

In other words, you can be IQ smart, but EQ dumb. Street smarts al­ways beat aca­dem­i­cally smart. Hil­lary Clin­ton never un­der­stood why she lost to Don­ald Trump. It was her game to lose and she lost it, de­spite all her own ex­cuses. Her con­so­la­tion prize is to write best-sell­ers that ex­plain her own in­ad­e­qua­cies.

It never was an equal world. Sur­vival has al­ways been ei­ther eat­ing lunch or be­ing lunch. The dumb ones that do not learn be­come lunch, but as the holy books al­ways claim, “the meek shall in­herit the earth”. How much the meek shall in­herit has never been prop­erly ex­plained in the holy books. Tan Sri An­drew Sheng writes on global is­sues from an Asian per­spec­tive.

Smart phone: A cou­ple take a selfie be­neath cherry blos­soms on Yeouido is­land in Seoul. The smart­phone is to­day the ‘one de­vice to rule them all’. — AFP

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