Designing Our AI Future

The Need for Human-Centric Artificial Intelligence

Severin Perez


Photo by NASA on Unsplash

If one term has captured the popular imagination of late, it’s artificial intelligence (AI). Depending on whom you ask, it’s either the panacea for humanity’s woes, or a harbinger of the end times. And yet, how many of us can truly say that we understand AI? Can either the optimists or the pessimists actually justify their positions? What does the AI future actually look like?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. In truth, there probably isn’t a single answer to describe our AI future. Rather, there is some range of possible futures, and it’s incumbent on us to make choices that lead to one of them or another. And given that we can’t agree on whether the AI future is something to pursue or something to defend against, working cooperatively is likely to be difficult.

Perhaps a first step then is to take a dispassionate look at what an AI future looks like, and what it’s going to take to design one that works for, rather than against, humanity.

The AI Future is Coming

The story of humanity is the story of progress. Where once we led short, miserable lives defined by subsistence farming and a precarious balance on the precipice of disaster, we now lead long lives of relative leisure, safety, and plenty. This is not to say that human suffering has disappeared — far from it, the world remains a deeply unequal and difficult place for many people. But on average, today is in almost all respects the best time to be alive. [1] And what has been the driver of our progress? Technology.

Humans have long yearned for better ways to maintain their health, safeguard their interests, and increase their productivity. It’s this yearning that leads us to study the universe, build new tools, and innovate relentlessly. Still, marginal gains in these areas have been the rule for most of human history — until the arrival of the industrial revolution when we saw massive increases in all three. And that trend now continues with the arrival of useful AI. Exponential improvements in computing power and the availability of information have led to AI systems that can solve problems faster and more effectively than humans. [2]