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Thursday, October 30, 2014

David Brooks, "Our Machine Masters": Getting His Underpants in a Knot Over A.I.

There are so many scary things to worry about in this world, e.g., Ebola, ISIS and the abnegation of leadership in Washington. So what worries David Brooks? Artificial intelligence, of course. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Our Machine Masters," Brooks suggests two competing future A.I. scenarios:

"In the humanistic one, machines liberate us from mental drudgery so we can focus on higher and happier things. In this future, differences in innate I.Q. are less important. Everybody has Google on their phones so having a great memory or the ability to calculate with big numbers doesn’t help as much."


"In the cold, utilitarian future, on the other hand, people become less idiosyncratic. If the choice architecture behind many decisions is based on big data from vast crowds, everybody follows the prompts and chooses to be like each other. The machine prompts us to consume what is popular, the things that are easy and mentally undemanding."

The reality, as noted by Brooks, is that A.I. has already been with us for quite some time: computerized chess software, the selection of music compatible to individual taste, and automatic pilot devices intended to guide airplanes through the sky.

Can A.I. ultimately guide human beings through their lives? I suppose that would depend upon whether someone is capable of turning off her/his own automatic pilot system and switching to manual control during times of crisis or otherwise.

Like it or not, we have all been programmed by a set of childhood experiences, many of them destructive.

Another example of A.I. currently affecting our lives? High-frequency trading. Imagine, however, competing trading systems, all "motivated" by greed, which can set in motion panic, upon which they can feed. When economies fail as a consequence, will another machine be asked to clean up the mess, or will human beings be forced to intervene and create new rules governing the use of such systems?

I still see a place for human leadership, or guidance, if you will. Unless the president decides that he is too busy playing golf and traveling to California to be told by Gwyneth Paltrow that "You’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly."

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