Annabel Beerel

Artificial Intelligence – Should You Be Scared? Well – Yes and No

by Annabel Beerel, PhD, MBA

Many years ago, through a remarkable set of circumstances, I grabbed an opportunity to learn how to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. Now therein lies a story (and three books – see Amazon). I was charged by my company with developing a PC based expert system that simulated the expertise of a corporate lending expert. At that time, I was doing a great deal of advising to small and growing businesses on how to construct their business plans and how to finance their growth. I knew all about leverage and loans and, thanks to a wide range of incredible experiences as an accountant, a lot about businesses.

The challenge for me was that I had to design the system, act as the main expert, and write the computer code. And I did it! You can imagine how much I had to learn. I was not a cognitive psychologist or a neuroscientist. I was an MBA, good at math, who had some facility with computers.

My computer prototype was a huge success. It actually worked! Even more impressive, it could outperform many people carrying out the corporate lending function. By outperform, I mean its assessment of the risk of a loan was more accurate and thorough than that carried out by many of the supposed banking experts. This did not exactly make me popular with some folks. I learned many huge lessons about thinking and decision-making along the way.

Watch out!

While my computer system was a technical success, it was not welcomed by many managers. The fear of being replaced by a machine – this was in the 1980s! – provided enormous barriers of resistance. The more progressive organizations, however, realized the opportunities, and so my AI company was born.

As we know, more and more of these AI systems are pervading our lives. While a machine, no matter how clever, will never replace the magnificence of the human mind, it can replace our mechanical, habitual behaviors and actions. It can replace many things that do not require creative thinking or specialized judgment. It can replace almost anything that is a repetitive procedure such as diagnosing for faults, system testing, or devising contracts. Many organizations are gravitating to greater use of intelligent software. We had better watch out!

WHAT CAN SO-CALLED INTELLIGENT MACHINES DO?

Intelligent machines can be programmed to evaluate options based on predetermined criteria by sifting through huge amounts of data. The amounts of data exceed anything that the human can review with the rapid speeds of current computing storage and memory power. When I was building my systems, we continuously came up against storage and memory limitations. With the exponential advances in technology, this is no longer a major obstacle. Memory chips store more than ever before and advances in connectivity worldwide makes astronomical amounts of information available in the blink of an eye.

The growth and use of sensors has also added to so called intelligent computing power. Now one can integrate sound and touch and smell into the processing algorithm. For example, by using sensors, one can measure body temperature and thus include temperature into the criteria of problem or decision-making evaluation.

How intelligent software works is by rapid pattern-matching of data and information against predetermined criteria, standards, norms or benchmarks. By processing millions of bits of data, machines can also be programmed to inductively arrive at averages, benchmarks, norms, or criteria that should be used to assess or evaluate something. Machines can thus propose how decisions should be structured to achieve certain outcomes. They can also seek out new combinations of data to test whether these provide new insights.

One of the first, most effective AI systems, was in the diagnosis of leukemia. By creating a database of worldwide cases of patients with leukemia, the intelligent system could mostly outperform any physician when it came to early diagnosis. The reason is that there are so many variables that affect early signs of leukemia that scientists were not then aware of, such as country of birth, altitude, cultural genetic make-up and so on.

Intelligent machines can simulate, and in some cases, replicate and even outperform the decision-making expertise of an expert. My simple PC-based program designed in 1986, did just that. The proliferation of these systems will exceed our imagination. Technology invariably outpaces the average person’s knowledge and capacity for adaptation.

WHAT MACHINES CANNOT DO

First and foremost, a machine has no subjectivity. It does not know that it is a machine even when it introduces itself by name. It has no subjective consciousness. This also means it does not have a conscience. It has no inner way of knowing, sensing, feeling whether what it is doing is constructive or ethically good or not. It also has no sensibility. It cannot feel pain as we do. It cannot suffer as we do. It can also not love as we do. Therefore, it has no affect and no emotional intelligence. And even if we program it to simulate EI, it will still be a program and not the real thing.

The intelligent machine can also only work in one domain at a time. It can help with diagnosing a certain cancer, or it can design new buildings based on certain criteria that consider millions of other architectures and so on. It cannot be an expert in medicine, home-made pasta dishes, and a certain marine biology species all at the same time. By contrast, as individuals we have far wider mental bandwidths even if we do not have access to all the data or the speed with which to process it.

Intelligent machines can also not be creative the way we can. They can find new alternatives among many, but creating a radical new idea is far more limited.

Lastly, for our discussion here, machines have no intuition, transcendent aspect (spiritual insights) or humor. We can program them to make some corny jokes, but they don’t have heart humor. They can also not put things in perspective as we can.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

As I am deeply committed to personal development which is why I engage in leadership consulting and coaching, I am most concerned that our education and development emphasis, at all levels, does not take the emerging future duly into account. Technology will beat us on basic and even many advanced skills hands down, increasingly so. But it cannot beat us on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, personal maturity and perspective, ethics, creativity, intuition, passion, inspiration and soul, and of course, love.

That is where we need to put our personal development and leadership energies – now, soon, before the machine sits at our seat at the table.

If you are looking for ideas – drop me a line.