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Do AI technologies question the basis of humanity?

May 17, 2018 - Vani Vangala Product Business Manager, Finacle digital banking portfolio, Infosys Finacle


Working in Information technology in this era of technological disruption makes this a bitter sweet moment in time for me – incredibly interesting for the technology professional in me while incredibly confusing for the thinking human in me!

Wondrous AI

Nearly every day we hear of the wonders that AI technologies are bringing to the world, for example:

  • Computer vision is allowing entire industries to look at autonomous capabilities – look at how this is revolutionizing personal transportation.

  • Conversational abilities of machines using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Generation (NLG) are redefining how humans interact with machines, in idiomatic language.

  • Robotic process automation is bringing in unparalleled efficiencies via a digital workforce (software robots) by automating repetitive and manual tasks.

  • Advanced Machine Learning (ML) is bringing exponential benefits in analyzing big data and providing actionable personalized intelligence, at scale. Variants with training, clustering, reinforced learning are all incredibly powerful things.

  • And the most interesting of all AI technologies, Deep Learning, allows machines to learn without being explicitly programmed for it – this mimics a human’s ability to learn, think and perform.

Without question, AI technologies and a digital workforce will surpass human productivity and may in time surpass human ingenuity as well.

Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am)

In direct contrast to the wonders of AI technologies, is its ability to question the fundamental basis of humanity – be it philosophy, morality, or other dogmas that humans spend a lifetime studying.

  • “Cogito ergo sum”, a philosophical concept coined by Rene Descartes, which means “I think, therefore I am” is considered one of the tenets of philosophical enquiry. What does this phrase mean to humanity in the age of thinking machines?

  • Another quintessentially human concept is morality, that allows humans to distinguish between right and wrong. Take the example of soldiers on a critical mission behind enemy lines, the success of which could lead to enormous gains in lowering terrorism globally – the soldiers encounter civilians while on the mission – the soldiers can choose to either kill the civilians or release them; if the civilians are not innocent this decision can lead to the death or capture of the soldiers. So the moral dilemma here is whether the greater good is served by making the difficult decision of executing civilians. In an age where many of these tasks will become automated and decisions will increasingly be taken by machines, how will one explain such moral dilemmas and the course of actions that humans face daily?

  • How will humans codify the interpretation of law, when this interpretation is subject to a nuanced understanding of humanity and an evolving view of “Justice”?

The impact on human society, of AI technologies, will undoubtedly need a rewrite of our social, financial and legal frameworks, globally.

Truly human

  • John Keats says, “Scenery is fine but human nature is finer” and Goethe says, “Our foibles are really what make us lovable.”

  • In the age of AI technologies, I believe, our ability to feel, to emote, to tell stories, to challenge, to inspire, to build relationships, to understand humor and satire, our foibles and idiosyncrasies are what will make us truly human!

Vani Vangala

Product Business Manager, Finacle digital banking portfolio, Infosys Finacle

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3 thoughts on “Do AI technologies question the basis of humanity?

  • Good one Vani. Am glad this question keeps popping up especially important among IT companies who are in the mad rush of proving AI. Just today, I was discussing AI, robotics, NLP and its complexities with my 6yr old. This came about because she thought Alexa was stupid while I wanted to show off technology. She is a millennial so perhaps this reaction is expected. On the question of morality among humanoids or robots she had a very simple solution#8230;.. always keep the control with us.

  • A beautiful introspection of internal human conflicts Vani. For AI to surmount or go beyond these tenets would require deep understanding of human behavior and moral values#8230; will be interesting to see thinking machines evolving and replicating mind and its seldom predictable emotions

  • This is an important paradox for us, as IT professionals to be conscious of. Recent Hollywood movie la machina is based on this philosophy. It puts up the clear and present danger of singularity in front of the us and leaves the decision to the audience. Good one vani.

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