INTERNATIONAL VIEWS: Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

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By Khawaza Main Uddin

DHAKA - The buzz on the net suggests smart businesses and consumers alike have resigned themselves to the method of computing for earning and living.

Digital technology is increasingly being used for measuring taste, emotion and intelligence of millions, not just for producing goods with higher quantity and quality and maintaining distribution channels. As if the big data is the last frontier for dictating the humankind!

Social media platforms, search engines and other big tech firms and their selected clients are influencing people to choose foods, medicare facilities, educational institutions, books, music, movies, sports, topics of discussion and so on. These practices have thus left millions of commoners and businesspeople exposed to hegemony of a few unseen players, operating far from national boundaries or immediate neighbourhood.

States and private entities that have control over flow of money, information and technological infrastructures have reasons to believe that they shall remain powerful by means of what is called knowledge engineering.

But, a few more than powerful clients of the tech-defined markets are scared of their future, as they understand they are living within the ambit of the tech-money-power nexus sans physical existence in their vicinity.

A common perception is: Robots would snatch away jobs by making humans redundant.

Overenthusiasm for or fear of artificial intelligence (AI) has come out of instinctive learning that the safest option is to go by the tide.

That robots will take over human empires is a robotic thinking injected by its promoters. Serving a cup of coffee by a machine, or drafting an OpEd by a computer is obviously the result of human inputs given for the specific purpose.

We still can't remind ourselves that robots can do not-so-sophisticated jobs, though with higher degree of accuracy, yet without creative application of mind of a human worker.

The man capable of operating the machine is being undermined in the discussion of digital transformation in the production process.

What most people can't critically analyse has turned into 'wisdom of the crowds' that eventually makes many too biased to a particular idea or thing. Otherwise, why do the masses read the same content or buy similar fashion goods?

If we see this as a trend, it is essentially the outcome of what most people don't bother to notice, artificial intelligence, not a genuine one cultivated in human brains.

Algorithms used by tech companies are presumably focussed on human choices reflected in statistical realities, not critical human thinking. Indeed, a thoughtless and lifeless machine is being compared with thinking and living being!

"…virtually all web technology platforms, such as social media and news recommendation systems, have a strong popularity bias. When applications are driven by cues like engagement rather than explicit search engine queries, popularity bias can lead to harmful unintended consequences," notes Filippo Menzer in a NiemanLab article titled 'How "engagement" makes you vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation on social media'.

The moment individuals of different generations get disillusioned and technologically 'rebellious' countries and groups assert their positions, an entire investment project based on advancement of a short-lived trend set and exploited by AI may die.

However, the obsession with AI is still very strong everywhere. Rana el Kaliouby, a computer scientist who is pursuing a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wants to teach computers how to recognise and quantify human emotions, according to a recent report. Her project is not only a testament to the dominant trend but also indicates importance of human factor.

There are fallouts of AI schemes as well. Since 2020, Google has reportedly blocked new AI features analysing emotions, fearing cultural insensitivity, while Microsoft restricted software mimicking voices and IBM rejected a client request for an advanced facial-recognition system.

Of late the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for a moratorium on the sale and use of AI systems that threaten human rights. "The complexity of the data environment, algorithms and models underlying the development and operation of AI systems, as well as intentional secrecy of government and private actors are factors undermining meaningful ways for the public to understand the effects of AI systems on human rights and society," it stated in a report.

Be it criticism or proper use of AI, people concerned in countries like Bangladesh are yet to fairly know the technology, especially pros and cons of AI. For determining how technology should be used for better life and sustainable business, it's important to first study AI aimed at unlocking its range and scope.

The author works at the Financial Express based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be contacted via This piece was first published in International Views is a section of BukidnonNews.Net for select international opinion pieces.   



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