AI’s Impact on Society, Governments, and the Public Sector2022-04-102022-04-10http://cortexlogic.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/logo_header.pngCortex Logichttps://cortexlogic.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/ai_impact_society_governments.png200px200px
In this Democratizing AI series of articles, we have so far, amongst others, covered AI’s revolutionary transformation on the world and its people across multiple industries, and will in this article consider AI’s impact on society, governments, and the public sector. We also know that the potential benefits of AI for society and social good are substantial, but also that it poses appreciable risks, concerns, and challenges for society that we need to counter. Similar to the business industries, AI is also transforming the public sector, but more focused on improving public services delivery, bureaucratic efficiency as well as public safety and security. Given AI’s projected contribution to the global economy over the next few years which is in the order of multi trillions of dollars as well as its enormous potential to unlock value, many countries see AI as a game changer and are getting their governmental AI strategies and policies in place to adopt and embrace AI in a meaningful way.
This sixth article in the series shares some text and audio extracts from Chapter 8, “AI’s Impact on Society, Governments, and the Public Sector” in the book Democratizing Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Everyone:Shaping a Better Future in the Smart Technology Era. The following topics will also be discussed on 14 April 2022 at BiCstreet‘s “AI World Series” Live event (see more details at the bottom of the article):
27. AI’s Impact on Society
28. Potential Benefits of AI for Society and Social Good
29. Risks, Concerns and Challenges of AI for Society
30. AI-driven Transformation of the Public Sector
31. Governmental AI Strategies, Policies, and Adoption
There is no doubt that smart technology is having a profound transformative impact on society as a whole with all-embracing economic, political, legal, ethical, and regulatory implications and will ultimately impact every citizen around the globe as well as challenge and change the way we live our lives in the Smart Technology Era. As we enter this new phase of civilization, we see an increasingly instrumented and quantified society that is surrounded by a massive proliferation of smarter, more capable, more connected, and ubiquitous systems and devices that enhance productivity, create conveniences, and help us to solve problems. In previous chapters we have already seen how AI as a strategic exponential smart technology is transforming our world and economy at a rapid pace with a range of applications across multiple industries and sectors. Even though AI can have a tremendously beneficial impact on society, business and the economy, there are also risks, concerns and challenges that we need to address such as losing jobs, ensuring human agency and not losing control, data abuse, dependence lock-in, and societal disorder and harm through various mechanisms. It also forces us to strategically rethink society and ask questions about our identity, who we are, what we do, what is private, what we own, what we consume, how we spend our time, how and what skills do we develop, what we learn, how we work, how we play, what we do about our health, how we relate to one another, how we communicate and interact with one another, how we want to be augmented, and how we want to be governed. The socio-technical impact of AI necessitates the establishment of new frameworks for digital governance where people are empowered through transparent and collaborative decision-making involving multiple stakeholders across the spectrum of society to reshape our social, political, cultural, and economic environments. We have the opportunity and ability to direct and shape AI and smart technology in such a way that reflects our common human-centric objectives, values, and shared sense of destiny, as well as emphasizes and complements human capacities such as creativity, compassion, empathy, meaningful engagement, stewardship, cooperation, and reflection.
So, what are the effects of AI on us? To answer this question, it may help to think about what the effects of steel were at the time of the Industrial Revolution. The invention of steel gave the world a tool that would quickly change the entire world. It had no power or meaning in itself, aside from helping humans achieve their goals. It was humans who saw a need and thus found a tool that had value to our need to progress and grow. Steel was transformative. It fulfilled a massive transformative purpose for growth, production, and globalization – to make things easier for us; to help us. It was and is used for so many different things each forming part of its transformative power still felt today. In our cars, our appliances, the industrial machines we take for granted; steel is an integral part of the society we know. The same can be said of electricity. AI, like steel or electricity, is a technological advancement or a tool that is changing the world. It may not be something we can touch as we might touch steel or plug into electricity, but just as we have progressed, so have our tools. Our tools fulfill a need, and the need AI fulfills is to allow us to be less reliant on heavy machinery and structures to learn, trade, make decisions, grow, and have a continuous stream of insights to be better at what we do and how we do it. If AI can be seen in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, AI is the self-actualization to steel’s safety. We needed steel first. We needed to build the physical structures before we could break free into a new world where physical structures alone are not enough and, in some ways, unnecessary to reach our true potential. What we mean when we say unnecessary is that it is no longer necessary to have a physical room with a doctor in order to have a consultation. It is not even necessary (in common cases) to have a physical doctor present. What is necessary is a smartphone and an AI-powered medical application that asks us questions, takes our temperature, and scans our symptoms. We have moved away from physical reliance to have our basic needs met. Smart technology has done that for us. And due to the fact that it can be anywhere at any time, every single person with a smartphone and internet has access to it. AI and the smart technology that accompanies it are steel on steroids.
How does AI affect us? It affects our productivity. It affects the effort and time we take to complete daily tasks. It affects the way we search for information or tap into knowledge bases. It affects our understanding of complex problems and how they fit together. It affects our understanding of the brain. It affects our privacy. It affects our transparency. It affects our ethics. It affects the public services we expect. It is already omnipresent in so many respects as it taps into a globalized hyperconnected world where the urgency to keep up increases all the time. There is a constant string of new products, processes, tools, and platforms to improve, enhance, reinvent, and disrupt our lives. Thomas Friedman divides our reactions to this into two – those who are overwhelmed, displaced and fearful and those who are inspired by and flowing with the changes.[i] The truth is there is probably a mixture of both of these reactions in all of us. It also depends on things like how exposed we are, and the momentum around us to adopt new technologies, buy new things and trade our comfort zones so often that being uncomfortable becomes our comfort zone. The tricky thing about globalization is that it only refers to the parts of the globe that easily connect, interact, and share with the rest of the globe. So, if people who are easily exposed struggle to keep up with the constant ‘global’ changes, what about those who are not actually included in them or receive only bits of the advancement, often delayed? Most of the inventions, add-ons and advancements are usually born from the same list of already developed and advanced countries – those assumed to be included in the term ‘globalization’.[ii] Thomas Friedman, Yuval Harari and many thinkers and commentators of our time believe it is our responsibility to ensure that we do not leave people behind. What we need to think about now is how we do it. How do we make a promise we can keep that globalization, the digital economy and smart technology will make the world a better place for all? Some later chapters hope to answer some of these questions. The innovation of the world is consistently arising from the same main pockets and some emerging nations. Different parts of the world are finding themselves at very different levels of digitization and advancement, while some of the more advanced and developed world are empowered by mobility, knowledge and smart technology – the gaps in the way people across countries, with historically different cultures and ways of life are substantially decreased. We may, in fact, have more similarities between the digitally included in China and America who historically possess different ways to value the world, different spiritual beliefs and different ways of living, than between a rural farmer in China and someone from Beijing.
What we are noticing is that religions, locations, or cultures are no longer our largest separators, but digitization, digital literacy, the opportunities it provides and knowledge it allows. The danger of not doing this is, without catastrophizing it, socio-economic disaster, further exclusion and deepening the relatability gap. This gap is based on varying experiences of the world. While this is assumed, and often based on an area’s natural resources, rich in culture, values and priorities that are in no way threatening to one another, experiences of the world and of life are becoming so different that there may soon not be much that we can relate to. We are already living lives hard to relate through mere class, culture, and priorities, if we add total digitization of the way some of us live our lives, while others do not know what the internet is, we are failing.[iii]
Acceleration in the topic of globalization guides our thoughts towards the effects of development on people’s lives. Thomas Friedman, in Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration, and related presentations, talks about being in the middle of three nonlinear revolutions at the same time, that all contribute to the growing divide.[iv] There are people who can get on a new economy and people who feel shut out – web people and wall people. These revolutions include Market (digital globalization), Mother Nature (climate change, biodiversity loss, population growth) and Moore’s Law (speed and power of microchips doubles every 18 to 24 months). Even as it is closer to thirty months, the power of creation, invention and development means that the world around us is changing and is allowed to change very quickly. Some people can keep up, relearn, retool, and reengineer and others are lost and dislocated by it. The struggle is between these two groups of people.[v] There are of course some people who are wholly unaware of the changes and are not given the chance to feel dislocated. The result however is the same – a world split in two.
The things that anchor us in the world seem to be under threat. The way we have done things, seen things at work, at home and in our communities is changing.[vi] Neuroscience shows us as it maps our brain’s response to change that when faced with change we fear, we resist, we want desperately to go back. This is not a reaction of the weak minded. It is the very human reaction that stems from the way our brains are wired.[vii] Knowing this, how are we managing these changes? We have change management in organisations, which is still not as commonplace as it should be, but we do not have change management for entire countries. In the age of knowledge, and all the knowledge we have, why are we not using this knowledge to navigate our path towards a digital world? AI? Robots? Of course, people are scared, rational or not, they are scared. Perhaps many of these fears that seem justified or founded in threats or real situations are just the same as the fears in our personal lives? We want to take a risk, but given time to think about it, we will convince ourselves of all the reasons it is a bad idea. We may even be onto something, but the truth is we have no idea.
Our fear of the generalist future, the future of communication, of work, of our everyday lives is the same as our own personal fears. Will our marriage last? Will we have enough money in ten years’ time? Will we lose our job? Will we get sick? It is all just fear. Knowing this, why is our biggest investment not in psychology? Helping people face all the unknowns? Helping people deal with their natural responses to a completely unknown future? What are we doing? All these developments, smart technology, will all be nothing if the world is too scared to adopt it. Organizations have seen this problem so many times. We invest in a change or technology, and it is not adopted. It lands up being a massive waste of money and time because we have not thought about people. We have not considered their psychology. We have not thought about how to manage the change. That is one issue when it comes to people. The other, as we have discussed above is that the world is divided based on this fear. The division is dangerous to societies, economics, inequality, and human rights. Managing fear is just one of the ways we can prevent this. What about education? What about directing our inventions towards solving age-old problems that we finally have the capacity to solve?
So, what is AI doing for society? AI is doing many wonderful things for society, including where AI is improving access, solving problems, and enhancing the daily lives of all civilians. But as with any good, we need to see the adverse side too, which we will discuss further later in this chapter, particularly also where they are unintentional. The unintentional effects of the machines we are teaching are most important to understand whereas the more obvious applications like weapons, spying equipment and job displacement do not need much explanation as to why they are problematic.
Some of you may remember the Google Walkout of November 2018. A large group of international Google employees staged a walkout at the same time, to stand up against unethical decision making within the organization. These Google employees were drawing attention to the lack of diversity in Google and how this lack of diversity was leading to decisions that not only favored white men within the organization, but this bias was expressed in the smart technology and machine learning algorithms that were being developed.[viii] What is worse is that the world did not know how their data was being used, what the effects of these lines of development and use were and if any rights were being violated or merely forgotten. This translates into a world, cultures, organizations, and leaders who are mostly run by white men, now infiltrating this culture into machines used on a global scale and entrenching these biases further into society.
Google is not the only organization or institution experiencing this, and granted it is not only white men who are exercising their power or exposing their biases. In the cases of Africa and Asia, these biases will be perpetuated by the most powerful people in society. Whatever their color, culture, or creed – this view infiltrates society, favoring and benefiting those who are already advantaged and have power. While we will discuss this further later in the book, these effects on society due to organizational, governmental, and institutional decision making, even without AI, tend to favor the groups who hold the power, while ensuring that they keep that power, take care of themselves and advance their causes and cures.
Let us focus less on the problems and more on the solution. What could AI be doing for society? This needs to start with the question: What can humans do for society? In this we need to be aware of what we are doing wrong: the obvious and the less obvious, and then find new ways to create societies that favor all groups, not just the groups who have the power and the means to create, invent, make laws, and develop.
John Rawls, a social and political philosopher, had an idea of how we may go about doing this. In his A Theory of Justice, Rawls argues that it is normal to disagree on how to live.[ix] These disagreements come from how we live, what we know, our immediate environment, what we are trying to protect and what we have learned.[x] Often, they arrive from sheer luck or chance that we were born white instead of black, in a hospital instead of a shack, to a family who showed love and had the means to protect us instead of in squalor with parents we will never know. This goes further into the resources, values and cultures of the communities and societies we are born into. Those in dry regions may value natural resources and those in abundant climates might look past the natural treasures that other’s fight to protect. Those born in poverty might value community more than they value individualism and privacy – luxuries they cannot fathom when the survival of the one is linked to the survival of the community. In short, we cannot decide what justice is, what our collective rights are, what our responsibilities without removing ourselves from the lives we know and the things we need, are used to, already have, abhor, or hold dear.
Rawls says that being aware of these differences, of the luck and chance that placed us in our positions in society is the first step to being aware of how they affect our decisions in creating laws and deciding on the rights worth upholding and protecting.[xi] This does not only apply to justice in laws however, but it should also be applied to institutions and organisations. We see the effects of not doing this in the results within countries, organisations and institutions that favor, protect and advance one group of people over another – often out of a state of ignorance to how their beliefs, status, what they are exposed to or how they are influenced.
If we are to follow a Rawlsian Theory of Justice – one that promotes fairness above all, we should be thinking about justice (rights, laws, policies, and procedures) from a Veil of Ignorance.[xii] We must essentially forget who we are. We must forget our lot in life; the chance that gave us the conditions under which we were born into and consider that we could have been born as anyone else, anywhere else, with any other parents, in any other conditions. Then, and only then, can we think about justice, ethics, laws, regulations, policies, and procedures fairly. Then and only then can we create the countries, businesses and institutions that promote just living for everyone.
Without this ignorance, we have companies like Google or Facebook that have good intentions but struggle to navigate the stormy societal waters of promoting fairness above all. Without this ignorance, we have algorithms that favor one group of society. Without this ignorance, we do not think about our demands and actions in terms of their consequences on the people we could have been if not for sheer luck (and, yes, sometimes hard work to move away from our lot). For Rawls, we would create a social contract that would dictate what we would want to protect and advance without knowing who we are or how we will be impacted. We need to understand that we could be anyone, and if we were someone else under some other conditions, with some other life, would we be happy with what we have chosen?
AI, smart technology, and globalization make doing this even more important. What we are building today impacts far more people than ever before. It impacts people on the other side of the world, and its impacts spread quicker and are felt more deeply. If we are developing a machine learning algorithm to catch criminals, are we aware of how our beliefs and lot in life affect what we are teaching the machines? Are we aware of the negative consequences in the biased data we are feeding our algorithm for say, black or colored males? Have we put ourselves into the positions of others and more, have we insisted on diverse views when creating these algorithms? Have we taken measures to ensure that one group or many groups are not being negatively impacted by or excluded from what we are developing? Would we be more inclined to do so if we were the people being excluded or negatively impacted? Unfortunately, there is not a large portion of the already sidelined who are creating laws, policies, procedures, or algorithms, and up until now that has been very obvious in the world we see.
We still have not figured out how to distribute the benefits of the Industrial Revolution (the first one) to almost 75% of the planet.[xiii] Some people live in abundance and some live with nothing. It is time to consider that the people who are leading the world whether in government, research or business are the people deciding, in some way, who gets what, how they get it, where it will be available, who even knows enough about it to affect or ask for it and who is sidelined? We continue to protect ourselves, and with the same kinds of people who have the power to create and sustain abundance, how do we get to a place of fairness if not from a veil of ignorance?
That being said, there are many benefits for all of society that smart technology has enabled for us. Let us look at AI applications, supported by IoT, AR, nanotechnology and robotics, that are aimed at and improving society for everyone, starting from a place of seeking balance, and are already doing so as also clearly demonstrated in previous chapters and many examples in our everyday lives such as streamlining processes and task optimization, reduction of human error, solving pain points, improved customer service experience, personalized service delivery, information at our fingertips, personalized education, precision medicine and healthcare, and advancing human knowledge. However, how do we ensure that the technologies used for these specific things are not used for other, more precarious means?
AI needs data, huge amounts of data, all kinds of data in order to give us the seamless, intuitive intelligence that could vastly improve every aspect of our lives. However, this is where it gets tricky. How much data are we willing to give? How much privacy are we willing to give away? Who would we allow to listen to us, watch and analyze our every move, if anyone? For what purpose would we allow it? And how much control would we insist on having over its outcomes? The Chinese, as major players in the AI space, are willing to give up some amount of privacy for convenience, while the Europeans, Americans, and many other western societies, are not (or are not yet).[xiv] We still cannot agree on, even amongst close circles, how we are to balance privacy and convenience in an ethical debate. While western societies debate, stall and create laws that protect our data, the Chinese can take the lead in the wave of perception AI, due to the vast amounts of data it is able to collect. This leads to huge amounts of convenience when performing everyday tasks and access to better services, also in spheres such as education. The potential and positive outcomes of giving away our privacy are boundless, but the chances for it to be used against us are boundless too.
In Future Politics Jamie Susskind says the “digital is political” and strongly argues for the key role political systems, law, legislation and regulation should play in ensuring that these smart digital systems are kept accountable and in check as they are driving towards increased control over society and have the power to influence, persuade, manipulate and filter our perceptions of the world as more data is gathered about us.[xv] An example of this type of manipulation and influencing people was Cambridge Analytica’s use of AI and Facebook’s data (amongst others) in political advertising such as the 2016 US presidential campaign where an image of a candidate was projected and customized to the biases, preferences and prejudices on a personalized level. The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma shows how major technology and social media companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter with their AI-driven digital systems encourage addiction to their platforms for financial gain, how people are influenced and manipulated as well as its role in politics, mental health, and the spreading of conspiracy theories.[xvi] Facebook has countered that the documentary “buries substance in sensationalism” and gives a distorted view of social media platforms and not consider the steps that is taken to navigate through difficult and complex societal problems by helping to protect people’s privacy, reducing content that could drive polarization, protect the integrity of elections, and fighting fake news, misinformation, and harmful content.[xvii] That said, there is a definite concern about surveillance capitalism where personal data is commoditized with the core purpose of profit-making as we have seen with high precision and personalized targeted sales and marketing. In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism Shoshana Zuboff examines the extraordinary power of surveillance capitalism and how major technology players and corporations predict and control users’ behavior through increasing data extraction and analysis, offering more tailored and personalized services through digital platforms, and using technological infrastructure, computer-monitoring and automation for new contractual forms and continuous experimentation on their customers.[xviii] Zuboff has compared surveillance capitalism with industrial capitalism where the former exploit human nature and the latter exploit nature itself. She advocates that if the digital future is our home that we take control and be masters of information and not make it our slaves.[xix] Mass surveillance systems using AI-driven facial recognition technology is another big concern that threatens country-level and global freedoms and can easily lead to electronic police states or even totalitarianism. Although countries deploy these smart surveillance systems to protect their security, confront terrorism, and prevent social unrest or crime, the violation of privacy rights and loss of political and civil freedoms are some of the key worries. Federal and national governments are increasingly investing in these systems that monitor citizens and interpret their activity and behavior. We have also seen resistance in cities such as San Francisco where the use of facial recognition technology by municipalities and law enforcement has been banned.[xx] In countries like China mass surveillance with the support of their local tech giants has expanded under the China Internet Security Law with facial recognition technology made compulsory for accessing services like public transport and communication networks.[xxi] Also linked to mass surveillance, the Chinese government is also using AI for their social credit system to provide a trustworthiness rating of its citizens by collecting fiscal and government data and doing analytics on their social behaviors.[xxii] It has also been reported that China uses mass surveillance systems to subdue minorities and suppress citizens.[xxiii] On the other hand, the efficiency of China’s mass surveillance system has also been demonstrated during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic for health surveillance purposes.[xxiv] In a Forbes article Steve Denning has described the pandemic as the great accelerator that is both speeding up positive and negative trends in society, governments and business. He emphasizes on the negative side how the limits of civil rights are being tested by aspiring authoritarians and public bailouts being diverted for political purposes and on the positive side the shift to digital and virtual work and education and the acceleration of organizational adaptation.[xxv] We have also seen significant differences in adaptability by governments in dealing with the coronavirus, which leads to outcomes that vary accordingly from both a health and economic perspective. AI will play a key role to help the agile to survive in this new age being ushered in.
(For more on this, read the paperback or e-book, or listen to the audiobook or podcast – see jacquesludik.com)
28. Potential Benefits of AI for Society and Social Good
If we can navigate the smart technology era wisely, AI has tremendous potential benefits for social good and society as a whole. This also ties in with the sentiments of Max Tegmark, President of the Future of Life Institute, who said “Everything we love about civilization is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with artificial intelligence has the potential of helping civilization flourish like never before – as long as we manage to keep the technology beneficial.“[i] AI’s benefits for society also dovetails with the benefits expected from the broader fourth industrial revolution or smart technology era which centers around a future for humanity where as many people as possible “enjoy more freedom, better health, higher levels of education and more opportunities to live the lives they value, while suffering less from insecurity and economic uncertainty”.[ii] The latter is the words from Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution where he also makes the following call that speaks further to the societal benefits of the Smart Technology Era: “The new technology age, if shaped in a responsive and responsible way, could catalyze a new cultural renaissance that will enable us to feel part of something much larger than ourselves – a true global civilization. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to robotize humanity, and thus compromise our traditional sources of meaning – work, community, family, identity. Or we can use the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure that the latter is what happens.” [iii]
In a recent survey report by the Pew Research Center called Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans where they have interviewed almost a thousand technology experts, entrepreneurs, developers, researchers, activists as well as business and policy leaders, they outline some of the benefits and positive outcomes of how humans and AI might evolve together in the next decade.[iv] This includes new life and work efficiencies where we can extrapolate from what we already observe in terms of how AI is being integrated into many facets of life to enhance human capacities, productivity and create new efficiencies, as well as augmenting and optimizing the life and work experiences of humans. By continual off-loading routine and tedious intellectual and physical tasks to AI and robotic systems, these smart systems can not only relieve us from repetitive or physically dangerous or difficult tasks, but also open new challenges for our activities and allow us to embark on more creative, meaningful, intellectual, and strategic pursuits that might have a long-term and in-depth nature. As AI becomes more naturally integrated into our everyday lives and developing a better understanding of our daily routines with better human-machine interfaces, wearable devices, internet access and sophistication, we can also expect it to further enhance our ability to communicate and learn, improve our communication opportunities and sharing capabilities, help us to create better habits, increase the amount of time we devote to activities we find meaningful, and assist us in living full, healthy, productive and purposeful lives. From a work experience perspective, augmented intelligence and cognitive analytics will assist us with basic decisions, freeing up the human intellect to find avenues to accelerate growth and allow us to drive transformation at a faster pace. We are also likely to see the emergence of a higher-level type of labor supported by AI-driven augmented intelligence that requires creativity, direction and supervision of the safe investigation and execution of business initiatives along with perseverance and grit to accomplish the defined goals and objectives. In augmenting and complementing human capabilities such as cognition and decision-making, AI-driven affective computing and productivity-increasing adaptive human-machine interfaces can also protect us from irrational behavior and stupidity, challenge our decisions with insightful questions, and provide continuous support, advice, and communications. AI-driven intellectual companions with interactive reasoning and context understanding can also help manage information overload, enhance search, summarize, and engage on information content, and make recommendations. We have also seen the beneficial use of AI in research across many fields of study such as medicine, neuroscience, materials science, biotechnology, astrophysics, engineering, and agriculture. As AI models in specific domains have also proven to produce more accurate results compared to human experts, we can expect more of these models to be embedded in real-world applications such as say medical diagnostics. The promise of AI is to scale appropriately customized advice to as many people as possible in most if not all fields of human endeavor and to find new solutions to persistent problems and improve the overall quality of life. AI can also help create new economic activities and services or transform existing ones into becoming cost-effective and abundantly available. Apart from enriched interactions between humans and AI systems freeing up time for socializing with other humans, AI will also enhance human-human interaction and assist, augment and amplify individual and collective human intelligence in a substantial manner. It can also function as an interpreter of communication to help us be comparably understanding to others, improve the way we relate to one another, and further greater societal progression. AI, as also a prerequisite to achieving a post-scarcity world, has the potential to enrich the quality of life so that the current age of labor and workaholism will transition into a society where its well-being will for example be enhanced through intellectual pursuits, sustainable development activities, culture, leisure, the arts, and entertainment. Furthermore, AI can support the “slow movement” that advises a cultural shift towards slowing down life’s pace and focusing more on quality, doing things as well as possible as opposed to as fast as possible, and connecting with people and the natural word. Societies, individuals, businesses, organizations, and governments will need to be thoughtful about how AI systems are implemented and make sensible choices on use and restriction of use that benefit as many people as possible. To maximize AI’s benefit for society, AI systems that administer social and governmental organizations needs to ensure equity, empathy and consistency in provisioning of services to the population, ensure ethics training to make good decisions, disseminate equitable responses to basic care and data collection, reduce knowledge overload as it implements policies and serve the public good, remove human emotion-driven discrimination and avoid exploitation. As AI systems are being integrated into human societies, we can expect most aspects of human existence to be affected.
(For more on this, read the paperback or e-book, or listen to the audiobook or podcast – see jacquesludik.com)
29. Risks, Concerns and Challenges of AI for Society
Although there are high expectations of the positive impact of AI for society, there are some real worries, risks, and challenges that we also need to take very seriously, have a deep look at and address face on. Some of the remedies and solutions will be highlighted in later chapters. In Pew Research Center’s Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans report, they outline some of the key risks, concerns and challenges shared by a variety of expert respondents about how progress in AI and its applications might affect human agency, what it means to be human, our ability to exercise free will, our productivity, how we evolve and how we survive over the next few decades and longer-term.[i] Despite these potential drawbacks and pitfalls, 63% of the almost thousand respondents said they are hopeful that overall most people will be in a better position in 2030 as opposed to 37% feared that this will not be the case. The report addresses five main areas of concern which includes human agency, data abuse, job loss, dependence lock-in, as well as disorder and destabilization of society.[ii] Let us first focus on human agency. As we know that AI’s applications are implemented over a spectrum of assisted, augmented, and autonomous intelligence, the latter can lessen or even completely remove the need for human involvement in certain tasks. Given the accelerating technological change, the fear is that the pervasive deployment of these advanced autonomous systems can lead to people having less control over their lives, not able to give input into how these systems work, and that we automatically cede our decision-making, independence, and privacy to opaque software-driven systems that we have no control over. It seems like people are willing to do this in exchange for not only the perceived benefits provided by these smart systems such as search, social interaction, convenience, productivity, efficiency, pattern recognition, and data storage, but how it helps people to function optimally from a personal, social, business, research and entertainment perspective and stay competitive and connected in this technology-driven world. As these networked AI systems evolve with more cognitive capabilities such as reasoning, perception, learning, logic, creativity, and problem solving, we can expect human agency to be even more affected compared to the current state where these smart technologies already have a substantial impact on our systems that control the way we search, how we socially interact, what information we get, our financial markets, our commerce, our governance, our law enforcement and armed forces, our energy and industrial operations, and even our health operations. By having reduced human agency or not supporting our human agency, we may lose our individual freedom to choose how we want to live our lives and do things, which might be private and not “plugged into the system”. The concern is not just about human agency, but also specifically about the nature of these AI-driven platforms and services not being human-centric and primarily focused on profit maximization goals that treat people like commodities through seeking our attention, making choices for us, manipulating us, and filling our days as opposed to supporting our decision-making process and respecting our time, our decisions, our wellness, our quality of life, our individual purpose, what is important to us, what makes us fulfilled, and what truly helps to optimize our lives. In a later chapter I will discuss some proposed solutions that can assist in achieving the latter. AI researcher and practitioner Francois Chollet mentioned in a Medium article that the primary thing that worries him about AI is the “highly effective, highly scalable manipulation of human behavior that AI enables, and its malicious use by corporations and governments”.[iii] He specifically describes how social media is acting as a psychological panopticon, how digital information consumption is being treated as a psychological control vector and how human behavior is in fact approached as an optimization problem. So, this also touches on data abuse which will be covered next.
There are major concerns about surveillance in all different forms including surveillance capitalism, corporate surveillance and governmental surveillance that are designed in essence for control, manipulation, efficiency, or profit or combinations of these as well as potentially being untrustworthy, fallible, and biased with inconsistencies, miscalculations, and faulty assumptions. A core problem is that ethics, human values, and people-centeredness do not currently appear to be key components in the foundational layer of these AI-driven solutions or platforms that technology companies, corporations or governments are deploying. The current focus seems to be not on creating value for people or understanding people’s intentions, goals, and beliefs, but more on extracting value from people, hijacking their behavior and driving them towards expenditure and conformity. This also contributes to the relentless break down of trust and truth that are key components to keep society together. Given the multinational and globally networked nature of some of these platform-driven companies, it is also not easy to direct or regulate them to prevent data abuse. As mentioned earlier, I am personally worried about the establishment of digital dictatorships driven by totalitarian governments where AI is personalized to control individual citizens and suppress their democratic rights, choices, hopes and freedom. In a recent BBC article, they describe a global AI-powered totalitarian government that governs indefinitely as a gloomy fate that could be “worse than extinction” and a “world in chains”.[iv] In such a scenario, people will likely be robbed from freedom and privacy, have no hope for escape, and have no agency to control their own lives. We need governments to truly act in the best interest and well-being of citizens and not to optimize to maintain power, increase bureaucracy, and mainly benefit those in power. There is also a danger that people’s innovation and creativity will be dampened by a fear associated with the unconscious awareness of surveillance and risks involved. Another problem is the uneven use of AI that typically benefits those who are more prosperous and have more resources. This is clearly not in the best interest of most people. The current trend, especially in the West, seems to be not democratic with respect to the governance of AI with technology companies and corporations – with power concentrated in a few of them – having more free reign in this regard to help drive market needs as opposed to the real needs of people, whereas in more authoritarian countries there is a tendency to track citizens on a continuous basis and forcing them to push along with the rest of the population without much room to move and for individual choices. What makes the data abuse matter even more delicate is that AI-driven decision-making can be presented as neutral, whereas it could in principle be unchecked and preserve existing social biases and unfairness. Furthermore, these systems can potentially give people the false sense that they are making choices and have autonomy, but still have them wrapped within the context and frameworks that are determined by these corporations or governments. New advances and progress in smart technology might also outpace regulators’ ability to keep up-to-date and allow people, companies, and organizations to still exploit AI, sidestep privacy defenses, or abuse data for their personal, commercial, or political gains. Henry Kissinger even goes as far as saying that human society is unprepared for AI from a philosophical, intellectual and every other way and that enlightenment will likely end if we do not systematically explore and study AI’s full scope and implications and apply it in wise and practical ways that benefit society.[v]
Another significant concern is the loss, disruption and dislocation of human jobs which also involves ongoing changes with tasks within jobs being automated by AI-driven software and robotics. Whereas new jobs will be created or shifts within jobs to adjust for working in concert with smart technology, there is a fear that AI will contribute to substantial net job losses that would make the existing gap on a digital and economic front even wider and in turn can potentially lead to economic and social pandemonium as also described in Chapter 2. So even with significant benefits to society, there is a real and present danger that AI will also intensify various forms of inequality in society, especially in the current type of capitalist economy that likely needs some adjustments to benefit more people. Kai-fu Lee in AI Superpowers describes the real AI crisis to be unemployment that is not only occupation or task-based related where we see automation leading to one-to-one replacements, but also involves job losses due to from the ground-up industry-wide disruptions that are created through new AI-enabled business models.[vi] His net unemployment estimates of between 20 to 25% by 2030 is also more in line with Bain & Company’s projection where they have considered the dynamics and interaction of macro-level forces such as demographics, automation and inequality.[vii] They reckon that the reabsorption of workers into newly created professions would not significantly alter the growing trend of job rearrangement and that 80% of workers will effectively be impacted through both job displacements and income pressures. In The Economic Singularity, Calum Chace also echoes these sentiments and makes a case for AI automating most jobs within the next few decades.[viii] The same holds for Martin Ford who argues in The Rise of the Robots that AI-driven systems and solutions are on the brink of extensive automation of white collar jobs.[ix] Whereas McAfee and Brynjolfsson initially validate the possibility of technological unemployment in their book The Second Machine Age, they have maneuvered away from this in their follow-up book Machine, Platform, Crowd and emphasized more the impact of AI as it relates to the structural changes in the economy and a shift in the kinds of jobs that will be available.[x] Of course not everyone agrees that significant job losses will happen as can be seen throughout the broader history of automation where people have been successful in making the required transitions. PwC has for example predicted that AI – over a 20-year period until 2037 – will create as many jobs as it displaces in the UK with jobs increasing in health (by 22%), scientific and technical services (by 16%) and education (by 6%), whereas jobs will likely decrease in manufacturing (by 25%), transport and storage (by 22%) and public administration (by 18%).[xi] Even though the cognitive type of automation is posing a problem for many jobs in their current form (including white-collar ones), it does not necessarily imply that this would be the case for newly transformed jobs where people work in a symbiotic relationship with smart technology and not necessarily lose responsibility, oversight or control of the AI-driven tools and systems. As discussed earlier, we might also see many unforeseen opportunities and new employment doors being opened. However, the problem comes in with how we proactively and responsibly handle the transition and change in employment arrangements and the nature of work in order to avoid all-embracing social issues. A safe transition to a more just social contract is made more difficult with our ever-expanding consumption of goods and services that drives our desires, needs and expectations, companies deploying more software-driven automation and reducing full-time employment, and governments not having adequate safety nets in place to assist in this regard. This leads to a situation where many people are and will likely be stuck in a condition of existence without security or predictability that affects their material or psychological wellbeing. This might even be further amplified in developing and poorer countries, especially so if they do not get assistance from richer and more developed countries that are and will likely be in a better position to tap into the benefits of AI on an individual, society, business and public sector level. Kai-Fu Lee argues that AI is an inequality machine that will enable winner-take-all economics in many industries, drive polarization and aggravate inequality across the global economy and even within countries such as the US and China. He emphasizes that without AI being properly governed, we are on a path to worsen inequality, reduce the middle class and increase the number of people that cannot generate enough income to support themselves.[xii](For more on this, read the paperback or e-book, or listen to the audiobook or podcast – see jacquesludik.com)
30. AI-driven Transformation of the Public Sector
Similar to the revolutionary impact that AI is having on the private sector, it will also help to transform the public sector where we already see practical use cases especially with respect to improving public services delivery, bureaucratic efficiency as well as public safety and security. If AI is applied with wisdom and in a responsible way, it could be a major asset to any country and a source of global competitive edge. In most countries around the globe, citizens unfortunately have in general a bad experience and low satisfaction with public services and its delivery modes as it is typically inefficient with slow response times, backlogs, inaccuracies, redundancy, and poor quality. There are also problems with limited transparency and corruption. AI-driven technologies and platforms can help to significantly improve public service delivery and efficiency by enabling citizens to engage with governments without friction, make it easy to voice their opinions, help them to coordinate their efforts, and even avoid overseeing from public authorities. AI-enabled automation can help to make administrative processes more smooth-running, efficient and faster, help to address resource allocation constraints, increase productivity, and reduce costs and the typical data entry and analysis, paperwork, backlog and tasks involved with mundane, manual, repetitive and redundant processes. In a Deloitte Center of Government Insights report about the AI-augmented government and how AI can be used to redesign public sector work, they show that for the US federal government alone tasks automation can deliver potential savings between $3.3 billion (tasks speed up by 20%) and $41.1 billion (tasks speed up by 200%).[i] Apart from task automation, AI can also be used to provide more accurate predictions, detect anomalies, assist with real-time tracking, increase effectiveness and help with better decision making. Intelligent virtual assistants and chatbots can provide 24×7 support, increase responsiveness and engagement levels with citizens. A citizen intelligent virtual assistant can for example help with applications, recruitment, support, public facilities, and notifications, whereas government-to-business intelligent virtual assistants can assist to improve services and interaction with companies and non-profit organizations with respect to API services, permits and compliance. The same holds for improving internal government-to-government services and interaction. Not only will these AI-driven service delivery solutions enhance citizen and business participation but enable them to also communicate their preferences and assess the effectiveness, quality, and usefulness of public services as input to improving services and making better policy decisions. Similar to the innovation that we see in the business sector, smart technology can help governments to create innovative and better forms of service delivery, be more proactive in how it responds to citizens’ needs from a social services, education, healthcare, safety, and emergency perspective, and provide better care and management of critical systems and infrastructure with predictive maintenance and defenses against cyberattacks. There is also some contrasting dynamics at play with governments on the one hand gaining smart technological powers to increase their control over citizens based on ubiquitous surveillance systems and ability to control digital infrastructure, but on the other hand also faces mounting pressure to alter their current approach of making policies and engaging with citizens as their central role of conducting policy lessen as a result of the decentralization and reallocation of power and the introduction of novel sources of competition. These dynamics force governments and the public sector to become more agile, efficient, and transparent as they adapt to the disruptive quick changes of the environment and remake themselves to ensure their continuation, regulate in a more pragmatic and relevant way, and improve their services, interaction and collaboration with citizens and the business sector. Deloitte has in a Government Trend 2020 report highlighted some of the most transformational trends in government with respect to currently implemented government operations across developed and developing countries alike.[ii] Governments that are augmented by AI can improve end-to-end public service delivery via a unique digital identity to enable a more efficient and seamless personalized citizen experience and treating citizens, businesses, regulated entities, and government employees like customers.[iii] It can also use behavioral science to improve government outcomes and encourage good behavior via promising lower costs and better outcomes whilst respecting human autonomy. AI-augmented governments can further manage ethical complexities to ensure privacy, equity, and transparency across their operations as well as from a regulatory perspective. Such governments can also anticipate problems through predictive analytics across many areas of government and touch on for example social services, food safety to law enforcement. As in the business world, cloud-based infrastructure provides a foundation for innovation and implementing state-of-the-art smart technologies at scale. Safe experimental environments such as accelerators, incubators and labs can also be created to innovate from healthcare to currency, whereas smart city solutions for the public services landscape can range from mobility to healthcare to the environment and expanded to regions, rural communities, universities, and military bases.[iv] There is also an opportunity for these governments to promote public trust in AI, demonstrate its potential benefits, assist with creating demand, and develop the local AI industry by providing opportunities to address various governmental needs.
(For more on this, read the paperback or e-book, or listen to the audiobook or podcast – see jacquesludik.com)
31. Governmental AI Strategies, Policies, and Adoption
In PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study: Sizing the Prize report, they describe AI’s projected $15.7 trillion contribution to the global economy in 2030 as a game changer and exceeding the current output of China and India combined.[i] They predict that AI can help to add up to 26% to the GDP of local economies at that time of which 42% can likely be attributed to increased productivity and 58% to consumption-side effects. Although all countries should experience economic benefit from AI, North America and China will likely see the biggest economic gains with almost 70% of the global economic impact, whereas Europe and other parts of Asia are also likely to experience significant economic gains with developing countries only modest increases due to anticipated lower rates of AI adoption.[ii] McKinsey Global Institute advises that governments should spearhead addressing the AI challenges that cut across government, the workforce and society as a whole.[iii] As a further acknowledgement of the global anticipated impact of AI on society and the economy, countries across the globe are formulating national AI development plans with some already supported by funding in the order of billions of dollars to for example help build local industries and prepare the workforce for lifelong and life-wide learning and a lifetime of reskilling. Governments are partnering with civil society and non-profit organizations, major tech players and others in the private sector to tackle a range of challenges for countries and their citizens. One of these challenges include motivating a broader adoption of AI and associated smart technology infrastructure across more industries and small to medium enterprises to help competitive markets to flourish, increase productivity growth across the economy, and improve labor productivity to drive higher wages. As there are major concerns about the likely impact of AI-driven automation on employment and income distribution, governments need to reconsider ways of social support such as universal basic income, negative income taxes, and work sharing. MGI estimates that although only a few professions are fully automatable, 60% of all jobs have at least 30% of technically automatable activities and that most jobs will be partially automated without being willy-nilly replaced.[iv] As illustrated in previous chapters many AI applications are also aimed at improving capital efficiency and non-labor related cost savings and not necessarily aimed at replacing professions. The fast-changing dynamics and requirements of the job market with respect to skills gaps and oversupply can also be better understood through real-time predictive analytics applied to job market related and other relevant data. Given this trajectory that we are on in the Smart Technology Era, it is certain that the workforce needs to be continuously reskilled to optimally work in symbiosis with AI-driven software and machines. Governments, educational institutions, and the private sector should therefore work on providing better, cost-effective, more practical, and more relevant training programs at scale that are in line with the on-the-job and vocational needs of the private and public sector and enable people to be continuously re- and upskilled. In South Africa the Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa (MIIA) has for example put some training programs in place to address the digital and smart technology skills gap across all levels of education and learning by blending traditional learning practices with futuristic, immersive and practical learning methods with a strong emphasis on digital exploration and exposure in a vocational training setup.[v] A “train the trainer model” enables the capacity of the workforce to be upskilled and accelerates the development and improvement of people’s digital and smart technology skills profile. Although we are well into the 21st century, the World Economic Forum has a few years ago provided a new vision for education with an emphasis on the 21st century skills that complement foundational literacies and core skills with competencies (such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration) that help people deal with complex challenges and character qualities (such as social and cultural awareness, curiosity, initiative, grit, adaptability, and leadership) to approach changing environments.[vi] Practical, dynamic and scalable implementation of training that addresses these competencies and character qualities within a vocational on-the-job setup has become essential for humanity’s prosperity and wellbeing. Some of the key factors that are holding countries back include policy enablers, human capital, financial resources, and technology infrastructures. From a governmental perspective, policymakers need to continuously assess and realign educational systems and standards with respect to 21st century skills, identify and prioritize key skills gaps within the context of local economies, resources, and constraints, and support innovative learning environments for institutions and education-technology providers.[vii]
The implementation of AI also requires a range of regulatory, legal, and ethical issues to be considered and resolved. Apart from handling data privacy, ownership, and protection and addressing bias in training data, the AI algorithms also need to adhere to ethical prescriptions, transparency, and accountability. Another challenge for governments is to ensure that public-sector data is open, standardized, and accessible to help stimulate innovation from the private sector or social good organizations. Intelligent virtual assistants can also be utilized to make it easier to use open data services, API usage, and data sets. As discussed in the previous section, AI can also be used to help to improve the delivery and efficiency of public services and improve public safety and security. Governments should actively drive the establishment of AI development hubs and smart technology incubators that support local industries and also attract AI talent and investment. Some of the best use cases are already seen in the USA with places such as Silicon Valley in San Francisco, Boston and New York leading in North America, whereas Beijing and Shenzhen in China are showing the way to create strong AI technology ecosystems in Asia. In Europe, London looks to be leading the pack followed by cities in Germany, France, and the Nordic countries. Whereas Silicon Valley has been the top global hub for between ten to twenty thousand active startups with approximately 2 million tech workers and the global leader for venture capital investment, New York also have a strong funding ecosystem and a leading hub for financial and media industries with Boston having a long history of excellent collaboration between science and industry and supported by a strong talent pipeline from world-class universities such as MIT.[viii] With the Chinese government recognizing AI as being of strategic importance, Beijing is leading with significant research contributions by Tsinghua, Beihang, and Peking universities and have considerable involvement and support from tech leaders such as Baidu, whereas Shenzhen has been a hub for strong expertise in hardware and electronics manufacturing companies such as Huawei and ZTE. Apart from London being a global finance center with great support for fin-tech applications as well as a venture capital leader in Europe, there is also a talent pipeline from universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College.[ix] In a Tech Nation study funded by the UK government, it has been reported that US companies have raised $92 billion which represents 56% of the global AI investment since 2015, followed by China ($22 billion) and the UK ($6 billion).[x] They have also highlighted 10 cities that account for 44% of the emerging technology investment from 2015 to 2019 with the top five being San Francisco ($20 billion), Beijing ($12 billion), New York ($7 billion), Santa Clara ($6 billion), and London ($5 billion). It was also reported that China has globally the second-highest number of AI companies (about 50% of that of the US) with Beijing being the city having the most AI companies worldwide (almost 400).[xi]
Although there is no doubt that AI presents challenges that have global ramifications and are relevant for each country, the implications for specific governments in how to address these challenges and to adopt AI vary across countries. In a recent Deloitte study, they recommend that even though there is frantic competition among countries and companies, that the AI advantage is not a zero-sum game and that there is much to learn from how different countries are adopting AI to help stimulate economic growth and reshape the competitive dynamics of their industries.[xii] They provided a spotlight on how some selected countries, in particular US, China, UK, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia, are pursuing the AI advantage and have unwrapped some key insights that can be summarized as follows: There is growing consensus that AI executed properly will have an enormous impact on countries’ economy, future growth, job market and competitive advantage. Lessons can be learned from how countries approach AI adoption, given their specific constraints and varying degrees of AI maturity. From the comparative survey, it seems that Chinese business and IT executives had a significantly stronger opinion on the use of AI to create a strong competitive advantage and their ability to address the potential AI risks. Both the US and China also seem to be investing the most in AI. As more companies are increasingly adopting AI to enhance their products and services and optimizing internal operations, there was also an agreement among all correspondents that the window for competitive differentiation for early AI adopters with AI is quickly closing.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) AI Policy Observatory in collaboration with a diverse global community of partners provides data and multi-disciplinary analysis on AI with respect to AI principles and practices, policy areas, country-level information on initiatives from business, organizations and technologists, as well as the latest AI developments and trends.[xiii] They also provide policy information that can be filtered by policy instruments such as national strategy, grant or regulation and the specific group targeted by the policy to enable and promote international collaboration, guidelines and help develop best practices.[xiv] At the time of writing they had a database of 60 countries represented as well as a range of initiatives on a European Union level. As a participant on the OECD AI’s One AI Work Group 3 on national AI policies, it has been fascinating to see the thoroughness, diligence and high-quality work, data capturing and information sharing that has been done so far to get an accurate picture in this regard. The Future of Life Institute also references the national strategies listed on the OECD database as well as some international strategies such as those from the United Nations, European Union, Nordic-Baltic Region, AI Agreement between UAE and India, the International Study Group of AI between France and Canada, and the G7’s Charlevoix Common Vision for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.[xv] The OECD values-based AI principles are inclusive growth, sustainable development and wellbeing, human values and fairness, transparency and explainability, robustness, security and safety, and accountability. They also have specific principle-oriented recommendations for policy makers with respect to building human capacity and preparing for labor market transformation, growing a digital ecosystem for AI, investing in AI research and development, creating an empowering policy environment for AI, and international collaboration for trustworthy AI.[xvi] As AI is a new general-purpose type of smart technology, the OECD has done some policy research across all main industries, as well as ones on corporate governance, digital economy, employment, tax, public governance, investment, industry and entrepreneurship, social and welfare issues, environment, trade, science and technology, development, innovation, and competition.[xvii](For more on this, read the paperback or e-book, or listen to the audiobook or podcast – see jacquesludik.com)
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Background LinkedIn Articles on Democratizing Artificial Intelligence