Written by Annastiina Papunen (Directorate-General for Internal Policies / AIDA Committee secretariat).
As a general-purpose technology, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to reshape societies and humanity itself. To shed light on current and future AI developments, EPRS organised an online policy roundtable to discuss ‘How will Artificial Intelligence change humanity? Exploring the social and political implications of our digital futures’, on 29 September 2021. The inspiration for the discussion came from a report entitled ‘Humans and Societies in the Age of Artificial Intelligence‘, written by two distinguished experts, Vladimir Sucha from UNESCO and Jean‑Philippe Gammel from the European Commission. EPRS Director-General Anthony Teasdale opened the event.
‘This transformation is changing everything,’ keynote speaker Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece) said, adding that she was glad to see several new aspects of the AI revolution covered in the report. Diving further into the AI transition, Eva Kaili stressed that it is important to understand the challenges, to look at how to address them proactively, to ensure that ‘AI is for good’. Facial and emotion recognition technology for example are potentially harmful applications, as they may lead to manipulation of human behaviour – even to an erosion of fundamentals such as freedom of choice and of thought. Highlighting the pioneering work carried out by STOA and the Centre for AI, Eva Kaili highlighted the need for international cooperation to ensure the ethical use of AI. She concluded with an interesting note: if creativity is no longer only a human skill, but something AI can also master, what will this mean for humanity?
‘Transformation, transformation, transformation’ – is the main message of the report. The swift and fundamental AI transformation is unprecedented in human history, and according to Vladimir Sucha, the positive as well as the negative changes could have a profound and disruptive effect on our lives and societies. An audience poll resulted in 50 % of the respondents saying they strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that ‘AI is triggering the deepest and the fastest shift humanity has ever experienced’. Machines are already better than people at recognising human emotions, and as 85 % of human decisions are based on emotion, a majority of decisions may be manipulated through AI in the future, warned Vladimir Sucha. Furthermore, creativity is no longer a human prerogative, as illustrated by an op-ed in the Guardian, written by the language model GPT-3. The future will also see AI cognitive extenders, brain computer interfaces and digital immortality, which may lead to ‘superhumans’ with powers and capabilities beyond normal people’s reach. Up to 25 % of young people are reporting mental issues, and we should investigate the causal link between this and digitalisation. As a final point Vladimir Sucha noted that our best bet to be ready for future and to ‘not let others write it for us’ is to invest in education, psychological resilience and ‘EMC2′ – which stands for ’empathy, mindfulness, critical inquiry and compassion’.
An expert panel delved deeper into these themes, moderated by the Head of Unit at Parliament’s AIDA special committee, Marcus Scheuren. Heather Grabbe from the Open Society European Policy Institute, referred to Professor Hariri’s book, Homo Deus, noting that ‘It is important to see AI not as a series of technical issues, but ones that will deeply affect democracy and even what it means to be human. People are beginning to become concerned, and rightly so, about how automated decision-making will affect their lives’. Heather Grabbe also stressed that it is essential to ensure that AI reflects our values and to address structural discrimination immediately. She also advocated involving people in decision-making as a way to increase trust in technology.
According to Professor Andrea Renda, the best way to understand humans in the age of AI is to see how humans have adapted to technology in the past. As an example, he mentioned the emergence of photography and how painters reacted by moving to more abstract forms of art. He also spoke about the importance of the internet of things (IoT) revolution in the AI context, as by 2035 there may be as many as a trillion connected devices, creating a fifth element, an ‘information and data envelope’ around us. Regarding regulation specifically, Professor Renda said that the proposed AI Act is a very good start, as strong governance of AI is essential. Finally, he stressed that it is important to discuss these things together before ‘the utopia of how AI will empower us will turn to a dystopia where AI will kill us’. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Anthony Gooch called for a rethink of the notion of wellbeing in the light of digital transformation. To start the process, the OECD has begun to explore what quality of life means in the digital age, and Anthony Gooch highlighted that ‘we need to measure what we treasure’. Bruegel’s Laura Nurski added that ‘non-profit concerns’, such as environmental, social, psychological and wellbeing issues, are often not included in algorithmic decision-making, which is problematic. Stressing that as long as humans decide what to optimise, Laura Nurski noted that it is vital to incorporate ‘good targets’ into algorithms. She advocated for careful consideration of which decisions are handed over to AI, as autonomy and decision-making skills are essential for humans, and if we stop making decisions and practising – we may lose our ability to decide.
The questions from the audience revolved around the concepts of intelligence, creativity, being human or superhuman and digital immortality. Jean‑Philippe Gammel, co-author of the report, raised the question of whether we could consider a machine as an artist. If people are not aware of who created the artwork, they cannot distinguish the work of a machine from the work of a human, but if people know the creator was AI, they will often say that the art ‘lacks soul’. The issue is no longer a scientific question, but has become a philosophical one.