Time to end the ‘AI: good or evil debate’ and act for good

There is so much written on this debate that it is nearly impossible to read and consider it all.  Do a Google search for Evil AI and you get about 25,400,000 results.  Do the same for Good AI and you get about 169,000,000 results.  It is time to end the discussion of whether AI is good or evil and take action to create good.  Every business and enterprise can do this.

The Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, UK specializes “in looking at the ‘big-picture’ future of the human race, and notably, the risks that could wipe us out entirely”. They see an Evil iteration of AI as having the potential for human extinction. On the other hand, a recent BBC article on research at Stanford University reported that scientists had proven that Artificial intelligence can identify skin cancer in photographs with the same accuracy as trained doctors.  So let’s agree that no matter what your inclination towards AI, be it the key to an enlightened future or the apocalyptic agent of ultimate human destruction, there is no shortage of material to support your position.

Now I wasn’t there when fire was discovered but, despite its many life benefits, I am willing to bet that there was someone in that prehistoric cave who wondered about its destructive potential.  To be sure, over time, fire has been used for some very evil activities, but it has also created some great campfire memories. The real discussion about AI is no different from that of fire or any other discovery or invention. That discussion is how we as humans can deliberately choose to make the use a positive one.

If we want to maximize the positive potential of AI everyone needs to be deliberate in developing good uses.  And when those good uses result in disruption of people such as disappearance of certain types of work we need to have the visionary social policy in place to enable a positive result.

The real discussion then is not whether AI is good or evil but how we will deliberately maximize the good and make the ultimate evil impossible.  How can we do that?  Well there are some who are already focused on this discussion and doing real work to make the outcome a positive one for all. They can serve as examples.

Prague based Good AI with “a mission to develop general artificial intelligence as fast as possible to help humanity and understand the universe” is one example.  There are many others that a quick internet search can provide but in all of this deliberate action to create a world of good from AI it is the United Nations ITU that is bringing the truly global focused action and in line with the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).  The SDGs were established on September 25th 2015, when countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

This week the ITU published AI for social good; How artificial intelligence can boost sustainable development; it is an entire news magazine dedicated to that one topic.   In the lead article of the magazine, IT World writer Stephen Ibaraki demonstrates how AI can contribute positively to each of the 17 SDGs.  Ibaraki writes: “There are a growing number of use cases for AI enabling the SDGs. Here are a few of them.

SDG 1: No poverty: AI will provide real-time resource allocation through satellite mapping and data analysis of poverty.

SDG 2: Zero hunger: Agriculture productivity is increased through predicative analysis from imaging with automated drones and from satellites. Nearly 50% of crops are lost through waste, over consumption and production inefficiencies. Livestock production losses are 78%.

SDG 3: Good health and well‑being: Preventative healthcare programs and diagnostics are significantly improved through AI leading to new scientific breakthroughs. There are 8 billion mobile devices with smartphone cameras being used to diagnose heart, eye and blood disorders; microphone and motion sensors yielding insights into bone density and osteoporosis — and managing cancer, diabetes and chronic illness remote care.”

You can learn the positive potential of AI on the remaining 14 SDGs here starting on page 6.

The UN is also holding the first AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva, 7-9 June 2017.  This inaugural summit is founded and organized by Stephen Ibaraki with the UN ITU and XPRIZE and will continue annually. The summit aims to accelerate the development and democratization of Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to address global challenges such as poverty, hunger, health, education, equality and the protection of our environment. The list of speakers committed to date are a veritable who’s who of the world’s top AI minds.

According to the ITU press release, “The event, the first of a series of annual conferences on AI, will convene representatives of government, industry, UN agencies, civil society, and the AI research community to explore the latest developments in AI and their implications for regulation, ethics, security, and privacy. Breakout sessions will invite participants to collaborate and propose strategies for the development of AI applications and systems to promote sustainable living, reduce poverty and deliver citizen-centric public services.”

In my October 2015 post I wrote “The UN was born in response to the realization that humanity had progressed its technology to a point where global annihilation was a proven possibility. In the 21st century we face a new “ultimate weapon” the unethical application of computer technology. As our harnessing of artificial intelligence creation progresses we are well reminded of the lessons learned in harnessing the power of the atom. The UN is our best chance to benefit from the myriad opportunities of ICT and to survive its threats.”

If last week’s ITU News Magazine and the upcoming, historic AI for Good Global Summit are any indication,  the UN has adopted and responded with action to the new discussion on AI. That discussion is no longer good or evil AI but what can be done to make sure AI is and does good.  We can all do the same.





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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Dave O'Leary
Dave O'Leary
Dave is a founding managing partner of REDDS Venture Investment Partners (www.reddsvip.com). His career in post-secondary education included roles as CIO, Vice-President and acting President. Dave is a member of the Practitioner Board of the Association for Computing Machinery. He chairs the ACM Practitioner Board Marketing Committee and is also a second term member of the Board's Professional Development Committee. (ACM - Association for Computing Machinery--official IFIP international member representative, largest and most respected international computing science, research, education, innovation professional association well known for their AM Turing Award (Nobel of computing) with 1 million USD prize, 1.5 millions user digital library, 2 million reach, learning center, Applicative conference, Queue magazine, 200 conferences/events, 78 publications/news, 37 Special Interest Groups). He is a board director of the Global Industry Council and the immediate Past President of the Canadian Information Processing Society of British Columbia. Dave is co-founder and director of an ISV computer technology business and is currently leading and advising start ups in the USA, China, Europe, and Canada. He serves as a task force member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and is the past chair of the Canadian National Council of Deans of Information and Communications Technology. He served two terms as a director of the Canadian National Information and Communications Technology Sector Council advising on National technology and economic strategy. Dave has appeared as a panel member in a number of Microsoft webcasts and has presented globally on the business and technical impacts of technology in training. He is the recipient (2002) of the highest national award for leadership in post-secondary education.

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