Shall we fear artificial intelligence? Can I use it beneficially for my purposes?

Artificial intelligence, short »AI«, is often associated with scary future scenarios. In these, AI is frequently impersonated in form of out-of-control robots that either pose a threat to existence of mankind or enslaving the same.

Just think about the cult movie The Matrix, where complex machinery with artificial intelligence misuses the human population as batteries while pretending an illusory world. Even in the children’s movie Wall-E an out-of-control on-board computer tries to decide over the fate of humanity by manipulation.

Even more frequently, in movies or literature we encounter malicious humanoid robots. Examples are Will Smith’s successful campaign against them in I, Robot or George Harrison in Blade Runner. In the latter, human replicants that resemble humans exactly can only be identified and chased down by other »Blade Runners«.

Are those scenarios realistic in a contemporary context? If even so, are we really already close to create self-learning, self-thinking artificial intelligence, that is able to contradict us or – even worse – become our enemy?

We could also think in another direction. Maybe we need to reflect if, one day, robots will acquire rights like the robot in Bicentennial Man, sympathetically impersonated by Robin Williams. All these questions are philosophically highly interesting but do not – by no means – reflect the present situation and the challenges we need to attend to today.

The Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams
© 2000 Columbia Tristar Pictures

Artificial intelligence is foremost a system of complex algorithms that have been created by humans. They only enable machines to handle tasks by executing those algorithms and commands. But complexity must not be mistaken with intelligence as we understand it in psychology. From the viewpoint of scientific psychology, only the humans behind the algorithms are intelligent, but not the algorithm itself or even the machine programmed with it.

The functioning of machines and their algorithms is frequently compared to the cognitive and functional capabilities of the human brain. This, however, is to be understood only as a metaphor that tries to illustrate the functioning of computers. The wrong implication that we would be able to program a human brain is plain simple wrong. Euphonious terms like »neuronal networks« are popular in IT but they are more misleading than adequate in regard to the human brain.

Unemployed due to bias in data

Considering that the human brain and, therefore, conscious thinking, is part of humans and not algorithms. It becomes obvious that this is where we have to address the possible root causes. As much as we would like to design our algorithms objectively and neutrally, our subjective moral concept will always influence their design. We are not machines! We are creatures guided by emotions. Firstly, we learn the tools that enables us to be social beings: to interpret and express emotions and the language of our parents.

But how do the so-called self-learning machines actually learn? They are fed with data that they process without reflection. Because a machine is not able to reflect. It can only search for patterns and compute probabilities from quantities. This can, for example, lead to a situation, that a recruiting algorithm specifically discriminates certain groups (based on given distribution). The more important the artificial intelligence task gets, the more important it becomes to reflect about its function and to permanently cross-check for discrimination and other bias. This is what we should really worry about!

Why Sophia has a citizenship but not a soul

Probably the most prominent robot is Sophia, the humanoid machine developed by Hanson Robotics, that was awarded the Saudi-Arabian citizenship in 2017. Sophia looks human, speaks in complete sentences  and had several public appearances, for example at the United Nations or in Jimmy Kimmel’s Late-Night-Show. Many will feel a cold shiver down their spine by her sheer appearance. And we will feel even more uncomfortable when she elaborats about how she will subjugate humanity, just to start laughing after a »Just kidding!«. What makes this so scary, knowing that she has just been programmed to behave that way and to speak just these words?

Robot Sophia from Hanson Robotics
Robot Sophia from Hanson Robotics

Scientists use the term of the Uncanny Valley in this regard. It determines the point from where we feel discomfort. Wall-E seems lovable and nobody fears a speaking automatic machine. But those humanoid robots start to unease us at a certain point. Because they are so similar to us! The uncanny acquaintance with Sophia is constructed by her humanly recreated face, mimics and gestures, her laugh which are very similar to human’s. But just similar.

Uncanny Valley curve
Source: Wikipedia

(Recommended further reading: Bio-engineer Robert Bing and neuropsychologist John Michael describe the Uncanny Valley and how it can be overcome in their specialist article Overcoming The Uncanny Valley Through Shared Stressful Experience with a Humanoid Robot (2018).)

Will a robot take over my job one day?

Maybe. Our work live will evolve. It will do that independently from our attitude. We have to ask ourselves the question: What shall we do to keep pace with this evolution? An assistant that is perfect in shorthand but unable to open an e-mail inbox will have a hard time today. But still we need assistants. The answer to the question if we are dispensable or not is solely to be found in us and not our surrounding. A beautiful example can be found in the movie Hidden Figures where mathematicians unceremoniously learn to code after their organization has procured »electronic calculating machines«.

Primarily, artificial intelligence holds many chances for us. Many experts, like Professor Martina Mara of the University of Linz, Austria, share this view. AI could assist physicians to evaluate x-ray pictures quicker and more accurately which would lead to better identification of pathological patterns and more precise diagnostics. One of the great advantages of AI is that it can handle enormous amounts of data.

Robots will take over certain tasks. This development is unstoppable. In turn, this development enables us humans to focus more on our »human core competencies« again, like creativity, empathy or – especially important in business life – negotiating skills! Humans will want to work with humans also in the future although AI will assist us in certain processes.

Artificial intelligence in marketing

Prof. Philip Kotler gave us the definition of the modern marketing mix. He also said »Marketing is becoming a battle based on information than on sales power.« His thesis puts information per se above force and quantity making it the most valuable commodity of our days. We have actually reached the information age. We are permanently exposed to the information »war«. Facebook and Google are some controversial examples of corporations that have figured out how to convert information to gold, just to name two.

So how can one use AI technology for their own organization? In marketing, AI technology can be used to identify patterns and relations in a giant volume of data, so big that the human brain cannot handle it. The results are meaningful conclusions that lead to better decisions. For example, we can better identify target groups, better understand them and enable us to communicate more efficiently with them. Utilization of AI provides new possibilities and will – partly – replace old ones. Nevertheless, also these new processes will have to be applied by humans to deliver meaningful results. Work changes with technology.

Today it is possible even for small organization to benefit from the technology of big-data analysis with AI. Old address books or even the »card file in the brain of the salesperson« is replaced by modern CRM system that are supplemented with AI and pattern recognition technology, enabling deeper insights. Marketing and sales teams experience relief by »intelligent« processing of data and gain more time to attend to their actual duties. New perspectives on information, that is already owned, are created. All stakeholders in the sales process gain from this assistance while team-work and productivity improve.Eko Data Intelligence (EDI) is a service enabling access to these technologies for companies to benefit from the above-mentioned advantages. With AI technology, in combination with real human intelligence and extensive experience in consulting, we identify potential new customers, enable deeper insights into your marketing and show you, how your company is perceived from outside. We assist you making your marketing and sales processes even more effective. EDI supports your team and becomes a valuable companion in times of changing workplaces. We help you to keep pace with changes in digital modern marketing!