Reflections on AI, Humanity and Systems Thinking

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can provide value to businesses in part from the customer experience it can enhance. Whether it is using big data, behaviour insights data or augmented intelligence, AI can help uncover and/or provide opportunities for an enhanced customer experience. What this means for governments and the AI value proposition is that governments must consider the impact and influence of its service on the citizen experience, and how AI improve this. It may be in customer service, information provision, processing requests for approvals, identifying opportunities for development, mapping trends that to consider when developing policy, or in considering jurisdictions from around the world that have faced similar citizen experience challenges.

When we think about governments and what they provide society, we realise much of what government does is buried deep into the lives of its citizens. It funds direct service delivery or frontline service work, providing these directly to citizens, and also funds or influences the delivery of preferred services and products, either through scholarships, incentives, or taxes.  The policy that governments develop and implement shape the lives of all those that are both accountable to and are serviced by its government.

One key issue at the heart of using AI (as opposed to Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI) is the degree it penetrates our lives and who is ultimately held responsible for this penetration. Smart phones allows AI to penetrate deeply into our personal activities and interactions. Algorithms designed to understand our online behaviour and serve us content most suited to our preferences are at play every day – every time we engage with technology online. We are seeing a much higher level of AI penetration in areas such as transportation – not just self-driving cars, but some jurisdictions use self-driving buses and other modes of transport to deliver public transport solutions (such as Singapore’s Metro Rail Transit). The reality of AI becoming a part of everyday life for people is no longer science fiction, but science fact.

Consider the reasons phone service systems in use by many companies.

  • How might these respond to the needs of the citizenry?
  • Does it matter that AI may offer initial response to issues reported to government, or will all proposed solutions from an AI source require human intervention?
  • What are the thresholds that citizens will accept or tolerate for AI use in service delivery?

Implications for the workforce are very significant

Unlike AGI, often touted as being able to learn from itself, AI requires programming parameters to be truly effective. Humans program these parameters into the AI system and run test after test to determine the viability of these parameters. Some systems are programmed to test itself, and at the speed available with the likes of quantum computing, outcomes of these tests can be determined in hours, not weeks or months. How do humans manage the risk of these technologies and self-informing systems? In addition to programming capabilities, understanding how to maximise and leverage data sets is required. And if you expand the ecosystem of AI development, you must surely acknowledge the need for systems-thinking so that the right data and right programming is utilised to create meaningful AI services?

The debate continues…

At this stage in our own evolution, the ability to think as a system, to  form connections with seemingly incompatible and irrelevant content and contexts is arguably what sets us apart from other intelligences. The synapses off our experience are so complex, so nuanced, so brutal and delicate that it still alludes us to write rules into a program that will see an AI system understand, emulate and learn from the very system it is a part of. The true power of the human intelligence is the ability to systemise vastly complex material – to think ourselves outside of the system we are in, and objectively manipulate the parameters to create incredible insights, artistic and scientific wonders, and conversely extremely brutal and cruel devices.

The standard we must hold ourselves to is the same as that for AI, or AGI. We know we can system-think. We use processes that tap into the creativity and intelligence of others from around the world in deliberate collaboration. So the activities we pursue – those we support others to pursue – in the service of the common good are the very activities we hope AI and AGI would also pursue. The activities we fear will come from AI and AGI are not those that AI and AGI inherently develop as an independent entity, but are in fact the very things we fear in ourselves.

The next time you find yourself worried about the Rise of the Robots, the Advance of the Machine, or some other form of matrix-style future where AI and AGI have outstripped humanity in the evolutionary race, pause and reflect on the nature of these things. How different are they to ourselves? How different are they to the nature of those we live and work with? These advances in technology will come, of that there is no doubt. The shape and impact they take will vary greatly, but it is up to us, and the use of our own super power – our system thinking – to guide how these technologies are implemented to benefit all citizens, regardless of context, creed or capability. This should be the drive of those that work in and for government, and those that strive for a better society.

Just maybe this will see us evolve into a different kind of human being, and in some way live into our own augmentation.

Some prompts for further readings:

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