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AI is Here Fear Not
July 1, 2017

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AI is Here: Fear Not

By addressing our fears of AI now, we can welcome its new technologies and enjoy an enriched life because of them.

We are on the verge of an extraordinary time for humanity. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has awakened the infinite possibilities that mankind has dreamed about. Machines are increasingly performing tasks that were once done by humans. They see, hear, talk, walk, grasp and learn.

Almost every day we read about truly wonderful new AI enhancements that will be commonplace within five years. IBM’s Watson is providing medical diagnoses for certain conditions with greater speed and accuracy than the best physicians. A Tesla car has autonomously parallel parked with greater ease than most drivers. Google provides increasingly accurate real-time language translation. These amazing developments are providing a healthier, safer, more abundant life than we could have imagined 10 years ago. And yet, when I talk about these innovations, the most common reaction I get is fear.

Blog post headlines screaming, “Robots will steal your job!” certainly don’t help. But I think make-believe Hollywood, which has made billions based on our fear of the unknown, has done even more to keep us from embracing the possibilities of AI by creating storylines that never end well for humans — think WestworldiRobot2001: A Space OdysseyThe MatrixThe Terminator and Transcendence.

I’m not the only one who believes this. In the spring, SogetiLabs, a community of 120 global digital technology leaders, published a report called The Frankenstein Factor — The Anatomy of Fear of AI. In it, the author recommends we dig deep into our own psyches and face our demons, because sooner or later they will emerge during the integration of AI into our day-to-day lives. They have grouped these fears into four Frankensteins: the fear of super-intelligence and super-stupidity; the fear of our subconscious; the fear of cultural decline and defeating nature; and what they call the “big four” fears of human existence — isolation, loss of control, death and living a meaningless life. The message is that by addressing our fears now, we can welcome AI and enjoy an enriched life because of it.

Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, published a wonderfully optimistic book last year called The Inevitable. In it he writes about the many ways that humanity will benefit from AI. He speaks to several larger forces that will completely revolutionize the way we buy, work, learn and communicate. Kelly notes that by understanding and embracing these forces, it will be easier for us to remain on top of this next wave of changes and truly benefit from AI.

To be fair, the fear of AI is part of a much bigger story. French philosopher Descartes’ famous proposition, “I think, therefore I am,” is espoused as one of the fundamental elements of western philosophy. In other words, for many, the brain is core to their identity. It’s easy to see why people quickly conclude that AI means that it’s game over for humanity.

Psychology Today notes that “fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger — if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life or death, and thus hang back for no good reason … exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them.”

SogetiLabs would agree with this, as its thought leaders have suggested a possible solution to the fear of AI: “CIO [chief information officer] as therapist.” In therapy, there are no simple answers either, but there are conditions for a fruitful session. They include transparency, dialogue and realization.

The only way to conquer fear is with action. For example, when entering a dark, unfamiliar room, it’s easy to become irrationally afraid of imagined monsters. The easiest way to overcome this fear is to turn on the lights. It’s the same with AI. We must put aside our trepidation and see what’s real.

This post was originally published in CPA Magazine