Friday, December 23, 2016

Artificial Intelligence could make you happier

As Artificial Intelligence improves, Bots become more effective and algorithms develop the capability to know ourselves better than we do, huge challenges for society emerge.
In recent months I have discussed several of those challenges here:
1. Can an algorithm do a better job of serving our best interests than we can:
(Could Your Next Vote Be Your Last?)
2, Which version of ourselves should hold eminence?
(The Fourth Dimension of Experiuence)
3. And - exploring some of the challenges discussed in the upcoming book What To Do When Machines Do Everything *- I discussed the challenges for work in The Technology Storm That Will Blow Trump's Promises Away

At the heart of all of this is how we derive meaning because it is core to why we worry about the rise of the machines.

Some see machines as the new bogeyman. They'll get so clever they decide they don't need us. I'm more optimistic than that, preferring instead to see a far future in which 'we' are as much part of the machine as the machine is part of us - an evolution which makes us digital and releases us from the constraints of the physical world. I grant - that's a long way off. But that goal demands a relationship with technology nearer equality than master and servant on either side. The bogeyman is a risk, but a manageable one.

Some see economic threat: They will take my job. And it's hard to say yet how far reaching that will be into blue and white collar roles but given the markets are already primarily run by algorithms and key decisions for financial institutions and Governments alike are aleady the reserve of machines, no one should feel too certain of their future. Again, I greet this with optimism. The machines we envision - self-driving cars and trucks, self-operating manufacturing, warehousing, customer service and delivery, robot farming and mining, AI health services etc etc etc will generate huge cost savings, increased efficiencies, a closer match between supply and demand in real-time (driving out waste). How will you pay for it? Well, in abundance would we actually need to pay? Money is the token the market uses to allocate resources. If the market has a more effective way to deliver that (data and ever improving AI decisioning built on it) we may not need to the old tokens. And if we did, perhaps we'd all get a comfortable base on which we can earn additional credits by performing tasks and behaviours the algorithm chooses to reward (those being to our own benefit - as it knows what is best for us). I know this all sounds distant and scary but if you told early capitalists they would one day be trading in a series of ones and zeros behind which there was nothing physical to pick up and carry away, not even enough promissory notes, let alone gold, they would have been terrified, too.

Others see threat to meaning: There is the obvious tradition of the protestant work ethic to consider. Ask someone what they do and they will tell you their line of work. The French ask 'what do you do in life?' Yet we still answer - businessman, binman, pilot, rather than husband, father, son.
Another way to consider this - as raised by my good friend Ted Shelton - is in reference to the central statement of the American Declaration of Independence.
    "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
It is worth breaking that down in the context of algorithms which have the potential to know us better than we know ourselves. Who or what defines the limits of our liberty?

But, perhaps more importantly in the context of this discussion is, what constitutes happiness?

A meaningful life is surely a happy life. So a life filled with the right kind of work is a happy life?

But is work the necessary route to fulfillment? Some may feel service to others provides their true fulfillment. They may use their 'spare' time to do exactly that.

Others may find their fulfillment in the service of a God or religion. Others find happiness in making others happy - particularly their nearest and dearest.

So provided we retain the freedom to pursue our happiness, work may be less the critical element to our identity, our construction of self-worth, our definition of meaning, than we often believe.

And if this is true, if we can disentangle ourselves from the concept that work=meaning, then we can plan a future in which the machines do the work (by which we also mean generate the wealth) and we pursue our happiness (among that abundance).

Merry Christmas.

Disclosure: *What To Do When Machines Do Everything is written by three fellow Cognizant employees; Malcom Frank, Ben Pring and Paul Roehrig. Everything I express here and elsewhere online is my own view and my own view only and should not be considered representative of Cognizant's corporate voice.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Could your next vote be your last?

My recent focus on trying to understand the constituent parts of experience (particularly in relationship to the experience of customers) when combined with the impact of the capabilities of both Cognitive Computing and Artificial Intelligence raise challenging questions about the primacy of the self and therefore of liberal democracy.
This starts from the premise that we don't know ourselves particularly well - and therefore we may not be best placed to know what is in our best interests.
And that's built out of the Open Business principle of Trust. Trust is built from the belief that the entity you are dealing with has your best interest at heart (this is what partnership requires, too).
So first - why don't we know ourselves particularly well - and why does that matter. Anyone who has read my articles, the third and fourth dimensions of customer experience will have had a reminder of the work of Daniel Kahneman onwards showing how we make short cuts all the time when making decisions. We recall experience using the Peak-End Rule. We average our low score and our score at the end. We don't aggregate the sum of our experiences.
We have evolved to experience this way to enable us to survive in fast moving environments. It was the most effective way of dealing with the data.
Wouldn't it be better if we could take account of all our experiences when making a decision. Like whether to turn left or right at the next junction.
Google Maps already does a better job of this. It (potentially) takes the sum of all the experiences of all the drivers on the road and plots your routes in the best interests of all. It does this very even-handedly. There's no way to upgrade so that everyone else gets sent out of your way, for example.
It makes better decisions for us than we do. In Google we trust.
Ok, so why not let Google select our partners? By storing and being able to access and analyse all of our experiences (at least those shared with Google - which are plentiful enough) Google could claim to know us better than our Narrative Self (the one that makes decisions based on recalling experience in its short-cutting Peak-End Rule way. It also has everyone else's experiences and outcomes to draw upon for its calculation.
Should you marry prospective partner A or B?
Those using dating sites are already handing over much of this cognitive spade work to algorithms. In Google we trust?
And if you want to hand the decision making to the algorithm for the selection of your life partner, why not to cast your vote?
If the algorithm knows your best interests better than you know yourself, why not let it make the right choice for you - uninfluenced by your short-cutting Narrative Self?
En Masse, why bother with voting at all. Are we ready for Government by Algorithm?
Humans have been, for a long time, the best things we had available to gather and intepret data.
Control (via Trust) has tended to concentrate with those who both have access to and interpret data for practical benefit. Priests could interpret the word of God to give you temporal guidance. Astrologers could read the starts to tell you when best to plant your crop. As economies grew more complex being able to read helped you make better decisions, bureaucracies grew, measuring, recording, predicting data about fields and roads and cities and people and incomes and food production and disease and health and threats and technologies and the instruments of Government grew around these data warehouses.
Now, to predict the complexities of the weather, the markets, the needs of the people, we turn to algorithms. They have become faster and better at interpreting more and more data than the best human agencies.
So why not be Governed by Google? By knowing us better than we know ourselves it can provide for us better than we can choose for ourselves. If only Google cars were on the roads, we would need a fraction of the cars currently produced (most are parked at any one time) and we would all get to where we wanted to go faster, with less pollution.
Give it control of our health and we would all live longer happier lives and our medical care could be delivered at a fraction of the current costs. Take a look at what Google Deepmind is currently engaged with the NHS to deliver for one small segment of improvement the algorithm could deliver.
Give it control of the economy and imagine the potential for supply to meet demand and the wastage that would cut.
This feels really uncomfortably like centralised, command and control economics to those in the liberal tradition.
And it's hard to deny that's very much what it is. But the difference is there is no politburo, no five year plan - no numbers set by politicians. This would be an economy run in the best interests of those engaged in it by a benign dictatorship of an algorithm which genuinely has your best interests at heart. The command and control is the needs and desires of the people.
When the time comes that the algorithm really could do a better job of governing us than our politicians, would you be prepared to make your next vote your last vote?

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?