March 10, 2017

Low-tech cyborgs discuss artificial intelligence

Emma Baumhofer - Digital Manager

Does the future of technology scare you or excite you? What aspects of it intimidate you the most? It could be fear of job loss, ethics concerns over bio-technology, or perhaps apprehension of technology-wielding humans. These were the questions that Nicoletta Iacobacci opened with in her excellent Creative Mornings talk last month at the Impact Hub Geneva on the exponential development of technology.

To start, some terminology. Artificial intelligence, or AI, we all know, but there are actually three types of AI. Artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) refers to “dumb” machines that can only specialize in one task or field. Artificial general intelligence (AGI) has human level intelligence. Artificial superintelligence (ASI) surpasses human intelligence. And then there are cyborgs, which refers to beings with both organic and mechanical elements.


Should we fear Artificial Intelligence technology?

The potential of artificial intelligence has longed captured the imaginations of humans and it tends to quickly take a dark turn. The immediate fear is job loss, but what will happen down the line? Will the robots become so smart as to make humans irrelevant? Or worse, gain consciousness and turn against us? We’re right to be skeptical of what the future brings, but these fears are better left to science fiction. As one audience member commented insightfully, “it’s not the robots that I fear but the humans.” There is immense potential for exponential technological advancement in the fields of medicine, bioengineering, and weaponry to name a few and we should look inward to closely examine and regulate our ethics as these fields advance. In an elegant follow up question another participant asked, “Why would AI care about us? Aren’t we anthropomorphizing robots when we suggest they will react as humans do?” – Yes.

It’s clear that machines will continue to take more and more jobs, creating fewer new ones in their wake, so how are humans supposed to keep up, especially when government policy seems to inevitably lag so far behind? We know that the easily automated jobs are the low hanging fruit for robots… assembly or factory work, handling a register, or labor, for example. Machines don’t get tired, they don’t required lunch breaks or holidays, they don’t require sanitary or safe working conditions, and they are strong. But, the rest of us shouldn’t be caught sleeping. According to tech commentator Shelly Palmer, the 5 jobs robots will take first may surprise you… and instil a bit of fear if it wasn’t there before!

There is an 83% chance that workers who earn $20 an hour or less could have their jobs replaced by robots in the next five years. Those in the $40 an hour pay range face a 31% chance of having their jobs taken over by the machines. – whitehouse.gov


How to prepare for the future

To Iacobacci, and her argument is convincing, the only skill truly left for humans is creativity. Robots are simply unable to be inspired, or to have a creative revelation triggered by a serendipitous moment. This is the human USP.

You can’t code serendipity. Creativity is the skill of the twenty-first century. – Iacobacci

Both Iacobacci and Palmer argue that machine-human partnerships are the way of the future, which may actually come in the form of integrated biological cyborg technology. With our attachment to smart phones and adoption of wearable technology we’ve already taken the first step towards cyborgism. Are you a glasses wearer? Yup, you’re a low-tech cyborg!

Professional tip: start by identifying which of your tasks at work will be easiest to automate, then turn to your remaining tasks and begin learning about how you can work in partnership with machines to achieve your goals. The learning curve may be steep but the effort will give you a huge leg up against your competitors in the workforce.

We’ve always been tool-users; now we will become tool-partners. – Palmer

Iacobacci repeatedly stressed the importance of continued and constant education to keep up with emerging technologies. While the point is taken, her singular recommendation was also the weakness of her talk. She did not acknowledge well enough the privileged position of being able to return to school. Aside from proposing the establishment of universal basic income, she did not sufficiently address how those workers who are facing job loss by machines today should cope.


Edit: I know I said robots can’t be creative, but what do you think of this? Can you guess which ad the robot created? A Japanese ad agency invented an AI creative director — and ad execs preferred its ad to a human’s



Switzerland and beyond

In regards to Switzerland in particular, an interesting discussion took place during the Q&A. Despite its small size Switzerland has an immense amount of “brain power” in its university networks and technology and science sectors. However, Iacobacci astutely pointed out that the country’s proclivity for insularism hinders its potential. Switzerland will only be able to go so far with its brainpower until it learns to work with other communities and not keep everything for itself. On a related point, it will be interesting to see how/if Switzerland’s beloved educational system, that channels a large proportion of students into vocational professions, will manage to adapt if many blue and white collar professions become obsolete.

These are international questions facing every country in the world. For now the answer seems clear. Don’t wait for new policies to be put in place; begin a regimen of constant self-education today and flex those creative muscles!


Creative Mornings artificial intelligence technology talk at Impact Hub Geneva

From Creative Mornings

Exponential Moments

Science-fiction is becoming science-fact as exponential technologies develop and increasingly influence our lives.

It is evident to everyone who’s paying attention that we will experience progress at mammoth speed in the twenty-first century. Millennia of progress-equivalent compressed into a few decades. It is likely that during this century, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence. We’ll see technological change never before witnessed—the merging of biological and non-biological, software-based immortal “humans”, and sentient artificial intelligence.

A moment when a civilization will change so much that its rules and technologies will be incomprehensible to the previous generation. From Vernor Vinge who popularized the idea of the singularity (in his 1993 essay “Technological Singularity”) to Ray Kurzweil (“the Singularity is near”) let’s investigate and discuss what does the future hold for us.


Nicoletta Iacobacci was Head of Strategy and Future Media at the European Broadcasting Union until November 2014, she earned a Ph.D (summa cum laude) in 2015, focusing on Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

Member of the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, she’s a BAFTA guru and a Senior Advisor at Singularity University. International speaker and event moderator, she has curated five editions of TEDxTransmedia and nine European Broadcasting Union Summits. On September 2017 she will curate and host the first edition of TEDxCarouge. Currently, she works on robotics and affective science, teaches “Emerging Media” at Webster University Geneva and will be visiting professor, at Jinan University, in Guangzhou, China.

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