Two of the speakers at this year’s Thinking Digital conference, Tony Hey a former vice president of Microsoft Research and Luciano Floridi Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, both argued that fears over AI are overblown.
But interestingly they both believe increasing automation will result in a very significant and permanent rise in unemployment as more and more jobs are rendered obsolete by technology. They both argue that society will need to deal with this through some kind of basic income mechanism as well as a big pick up in educational attainment.
It seems like the basic income is an idea whose time is fast approaching.
Simon Lynen has been working on Google’s Project Tango which is trying to use smart phones to map the world at a granular level. Clearly there are big potential privacy issues here but Lynan says Google are designing the data to be anonomised, compacted and then rendered incapable of being recreated. Obviously the NSA revelations are now influencing design decisions.
Ian Wharton believes the secret of true creativity is what he calls youthful thought. There are three principles that are key to this idea.
First, unpoliced thought – is the key to real creativity.
Ideas not based on precedent are the most valuable. Instinct and gut feel beat rationality in this model – “Ridiculous ideas beat rational ideas when it comes to creativity.”
Creativity is transferable. There is a fear of doing something new in case it undermines the successes we have had before in our careers. This stifles creativity, he says. We need instead to explore creative depth and keep on learning. And stop getting so hung up on what we are good at – “Fuck Malcolm Gladwell” (of the 10,000 hours argument).
Empathy is more important than prediction There are two important concepts here, he says: state and influence. “State is the context of any individual. Influence related to how we can affect people at that moment.”
We rely too much on prediction, he says. “Avoiding the beaten path and seeking unexplored terrain – this is how we make things which are worthy of people’s time.”
Tony Hey of Microsoft Research says Moore’s Law will run out of steam at some point for simple rules of physics. And he thinks alternative models such as quantum computing are a long way from being useful. For this reason he’s sceptical about the risks of strong AI.
Holly Goodier the director of M&A (measurement and analysis not mergers and acquisitions) at the BBC says it is important to understand that not everybody is like you. For example 10% of people are still working at 6pm and 5 o’clock is the time most people have dinner. Who knew?
Ade Adewunmi from GDS (Government Digital Services) said that early assumptions that universal search would be the best way in changed as they discovered a new user group – those people who need to know how government works.
Open standards were key to getting adoption across the whole federation of government departments. They gives flexibility but also control which stops fragmentation as once a standard has been agree by the standards board that it is what will be used.
We reuse by default. Where they have set standards they are made clear and responsive and then support and enforce them. “It’s important to hold the line.”
The future is the government as a platform and that makes standards even more important, she says.
Russell Davies, who works for Government Digital Services says the most important decision was that they determined there would be no innovation until everything works. “Digital organisation s can fix problems that non-digital organisations can’t.” The goal isn’t to make things digital but to use digital technology to make things simpler and make them work, he says.
Andy Stanford-Clark has been wiring his home to track virtually everything. One surprising insight – the microwave costs more in energy to power the display than to cook your food for a year. So turn it off!
No, says Luciano Floridi. “Being worried about the singularity is being worried about ghosts not sharks.”
This worry is a distraction from some of the challenges that are real. For example we have “replaceable agency”. Automation is going to remove jobs and that will provide real challenges.
Big data and powerful computers will mean we become more predictable – and that impacts our freedom as we are increasingly pushed into behaving in particular ways.
We are also delegating more and more to computers are robots, the more so as we move increasingly into cities.
The big question is: What human project do we want to build on top of this technology What infosphere do we want?
His plea: think deeper, design better and be mindful.
Thinking Digital in Gateshead starts today. Difficult to say which speaker will prove to be the most interesting- as always.