AI for Human Happiness

As I posted last week, I came across an interesting article that prompted multiple thoughts in my head. I wrote about one of them (Greed and Development) last week. Here is the second.

An interesting section of the New Yorker article spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is a topic I am ambivalent and frankly, confused about. We hear about this all the time. While the majority of views are positive, there are a few dissenting views around. I believe this is a significant issue that demands us to pay a lot more attention and engage constructively around.

Most of the discussion around AI is driven from a technology point of view. It is no doubt creditable that technology has developed so rapidly that AI / ML is now increasingly impacting our daily lives. And yes, I have no doubt that it’s making and will increasingly make our lives easier and possibly more comfortable.

What concerns me, though, as the article implies, is that I am not sure that stakeholders in this (and that includes all of us) have given much thought to what is the end goal that we would like AI to solve for? Private players, for the most part, have vested interests that would impact the direction they would like to AI to move towards. And, at the moment, that seems to be towards maximising corporate profits. While I have no qualms about that, I do worry that we are not thinking enough of how we could leverage AI to make people happier.

I am not sure that making lives easier automatically equates to making us happier. I am not a pyschologist nor a sociologist and therefore, do not have a good answer to exactly what would make us happier. But here are some points that, I believe, are relevant:

  • Sense of connection / belonging: We humans are inherently social animals. The more we feel a sense of connection to the community at large, the more I believe it would make us happier.
  • Sense of purpose: We are increasingly, in a digital world, trying to find out what our purpose in life is. I believe a lack of purpose leads to unhappiness.
  • Feeling connected with nature: This might probably not resonate with everyone, but I believe spending time with nature can make us happier.
  • Health: No explanations required here, I would imagine.

The good news is that there are qualified people grappling with, and expressing their opinion about, this topic. An article on Pew Internet called Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans includes the views of many experts in this field. I particularly liked the views expressed by Baratunde Thurston, futurist, former director of digital at The Onion. A few of his comments below:

  • “The problems to which we are applying machine learning and AI are generally not ones that will lead to a ‘better’ life for most people. That’s why I say in 2030, most people won’t be better due to AI.
  • By 2030, we may cram more activities and interactions into our days, but I don’t think that will make our lives ‘better.’ A better life, by my definition, is one in which we feel more valued and happy.
  • To create a different future, I believe we must unleash these technologies toward goals beyond profit maximization.
  • We need to ask that they ask us, ‘What is important to you? How would you like to spend your time?’ But that’s not the system we’re building. All those decisions have been hoarded by the unimaginative pursuit of profit.”

Let’s hope that we see some more public discussions around this topic in the near future.

Image of Nature

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