AI and Algorithms Are Not That Smart and Could be Dangerous without Supervision

Ideas and Issues

Little Rock Artificial intelligence or AI, as people are starting to call it fairly routinely, and the algorithms that crowd around us everywhere, are muscling into every part of our lives in ways we don’t clearly understand, but that increasingly demand our attention. We are making a mistake by relaxing our concentration and relying on them without caution and careful observation.

Let me give some examples.

In Greenville, Mississippi the other day before a meeting we were chatting about computers and how we depended on them. My friend argued that if he wasn’t working, he would have a flip phone still, rather than a smartphone. He then told me a story both hilarious and frightening. One of his grandnephews had passed away as a teenager of cancer. He was talking to a much young grandnephew and trying to both console and counsel him. His nephew had asked him why his cousin had died. My friend explained cancer and in brief the search for a cure, and ended by saying perhaps his nephew would end up becoming a doctor and helping find the cure when he grew up. The boy nodded as he listened, and then looked at his uncle and said, “Maybe so, but if not, I’ll ask Siri for help.” Siri is of course the robotron voice on Apple devices. We both laughed hard, but the other thing at work was how much the young boy already depended on this detached AI voice for his way forward.

Of course Amazon and Facebook are headline news example of shortcuts and greed failing to supervise their algorithms. Facebook of course is having to explain how its vaunted AI and algorithms allowed people to search out racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic folks to be their hater buddies. A report by Pro Publica pulled their tail, and CFO Sandy “Lean-In” Sandburg drew the straw to go public on this by saying she was personally offended by it, but leaving the nagging question of why they had to be told this was a problem and didn’t know already? Oh, and of course they also allowed Russian fronts to create fake groups as long as they paid them $150,000 so that there was no nevermind. Amazon makes billions by tooling its algorithm so that when you buy item x, they will suggest that people who buy x, also usually by y and z with it. Someone had to pull their sleeve about the fact that their algorithm was helping people build bombs by linking the needed elements together. Whoops – bang!

Interviewing Edward Hess of the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia about his new book, Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age on Wade’s World on KABF makes all of this seem like child’s play. He wants to trigger a conversation by business, policy makers, and the rest of us about the tech revolution that is coming from these same directions. He argued that the job displacement would be many factors more than we saw in the Great Depression and that the impact would dwarf the Industrial Revolution when it took 60 to 80 years to recover the jobs. This is a revolution that takes the breath away once we start twisting our worry beads. His advice was start retraining yourself today because everyone from bottom to the top professionals could find themselves in the unemployment line without new skills.

I’m already running as fast as my legs can carry me just trying to keep up, but all of this is a warning to pay attention, ask hard questions even of the robots, and start planning your own survival strategy.