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:

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Patterns- let’s decode. Shall we?

Today I am experiencing one of those beautiful synchronicities that life offers you. This morning I was reading a book titled ‘Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton Erickson’ and later in the day while surfing for something to watch I stumbled upon this video titled ‘ The brain that changes itself’ on Amazon. Let me share and elaborate how my little head connects the two and there’s also a bonus at the end. Have fun!

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Mastadon of IPFW, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I am only 10th page of the book I mentioned and I loved how the author talks about the different messages we decode everyday from our external environment unconsciously. How do we decode these messages? Via our senses i.e. sight, smell, hearing, touch. For most people only one of these senses is the dominant source of information. Our decoding of this information depends on our past conditioning to a large extent. For example: When you say or read the word ‘food’ , each one of us experiences this word differently based on our associations to the word food in the past. It could be an image, it could be a distinct smell, it could be texture or the clinging of vessels related to the word. While we are forming those experiences/associations in the beginning we don’t filter it out, we simply receive and save it in our repository. This then helps us to not have to go through this decoding process again when we hear/read the word food. This association becomes our default as we grow up and we never really challenge it. We assume that what ‘food’ means for us is what it means for everyone else in general. This assumption of sameness makes our lives easier for sure but this assumption can also limit our abilities to learn more and new meanings of the word ‘food’. As I write this, I can think of how so many individuals argue over the definition of what is and what is not ‘food’ which is a never ending argument for many. So remember that we as humans like certainty and we create these patterns which need to be used by default without being questioned so that we can then utilize our brain power on other important issues like performing on job, rearing children etc. This can also be called our need to maintain homeostasis. Some of these patterns are helpful but some of these limit us.  But can these patterns not be changed or should they be changed at all in the first place?

The answer to whether or not they should be changed depends on what life circumstances you are facing and if you are happy/content with where you are then there isn’t exactly an incentive/need for you to change anything. What’s fascinating though is that our brain and bodies are constantly taking in and processing information and in a constant state of change. Even the food we eat is nothing but information/data in a different form which is then processed by our bodies and provided to us in the form of energy.

The thought of the need to change our patterns is the connection to the video I watched. In the video they talk about the concept of neuroplasticity which is the idea that the brain is capable at any age to make new connections and therefore rehabilitate itself/heal itself. My main takeaways from the video:

  • Unless the existing pathways are blocked or rendered useless, we don’t look for new ones. Some researchers have worked with individuals who lost their ability to use parts of their bodies due to traumatic incidents/strokes/paralysis. When these individuals were brought into treatment, the doctors restrained the dominant/usable hand and began exercising the other hand making slow and gradual progress everyday. What’s profound is that the new pathways weren’t built until the old ones were restrained/blocked. More often than not in life, we create suffering for ourselves when the situations around us seem to be blocking/restraining us. For example, you are a waitress and the restaurants in our area have stopped hiring. We create pain when we say..’ What will I do now? ‘and we keep looking for the same type of jobs. What if we looked at that block as a push to find a new pathway?
  • In another study, a person who had been blind for 38 years was given a device which sent feedback to his brain using the tongue instead of sight and he could navigate a physical path with turns simply based on that feedback he was receiving via his tongue. The man reported that the feedback he was receiving formed a mental image in his brain which is the same as seeing it with the eye. The brain doesn’t distinguish between ‘how’ the input is received. This is exactly how fears are real to people. Using this imagery available to us we can imagine new outcomes which is then enough for our brain to establish those new connections. Techniques like Neuro Linguistic Programming, Cognitive behavioral therapy help us rewire our brains.
  • Brain is a neutral receptor and storage house..so what are you feeding it and storing here on a daily basis? Meditation and mindfulness are two practices that help us become more aware of our unconscious patterns and bring those to the foreground for us to then work on them. In the same breath I would also like to mention that more than 90% of our body’s serotonin is produced in the gut region. More than one third of the microbes in our gut are not human microbes but microbes from the food we eat. So, the source of your food, the way it reached you, the soil it grew in, the way you cook it and the manner in which you eat your meals all determine who you think you areJ. If you are interested to read more on the mind and gut, please read Eat Wheat , The Mind-Gut connection and The Second Brain for the more scientifically inclined.