“Artificial Intelligence: Intelligent Machines, Smart Policies” | October 26th, 2017



There could be no better time for the OECD to address the issue of intelligent machines and human policies. AI is not science fiction, it is the present, and it will affect more aspects of our lives every day. Seen and unseen, intelligent machines and algorithms are performing more and more tasks, often with little or no human guidance at all.

Machines replacing human labour is not new

The good news is that this IS good news. Labour being taken over by machines is nothing less than the history of human civilization. What started with doing the work of farm animals and manual labour, to manufacturing and simple calculations, is now reaching into the service and white-collar professions. This is what progress has always looked like — technology takes jobs and disrupts industries before it creates new jobs and new opportunities we cannot even imagine.

Trust me, I speak from personal experience. I was perhaps the first knowledge worker to have my job threatened by a machine, when as the world chess champion, I faced the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue 20 years ago. I like to remind people that there were actually two Deep Blue matches, and that I won the first in 1996 before losing the more famous match in 1997. What can I say, I’m a sore loser!

But of course it was only a matter of time, and it was my blessing and curse to be the world champion when machines finally conquered what had been considered a holy grail of computation since the 1950s, when the legendary founding father of computer, Alan Turing, published the first chess program.

Losing was painful, but I realised that this was also a human achievement, a human victory. After all, humans designed and built Deep Blue, and humans would benefit from the knowledge they created. And in the big picture, that is what mattered more than who won or lost a chess match.

“The era of human PLUS intelligent machine could truly begin”.

Losing didn’t make me a pessimist about chess or technology. It made me an optimist. I realised that with the era of “human VERSUS machine” ending, the era of “human PLUS intelligent machine” could truly begin. Even the smartest algorithms and robots are tools, and we use our tools to expand our reach, our power, and our knowledge. Our goal must be to find new and better ways to enhance our abilities with these amazing machines.

Who is responsible for the actions of a robot?

As their power grows, so must human responsibility, and there we come to the second part of the title of this conference, “smart policies.” AI and increasingly autonomous machines lead to many vital questions. Who is responsible for the actions of a robot? How can human morality be reflected in our silicon creations? What will society look like if it’s wealthier, more productive, and safer, but without millions of human jobs?

Robots working in a factory

We don’t know, but we cannot let that prevent us from going forward. We never know exactly how powerful new technology will change our lives and our societies. Artificial intelligence is not some new gadget. It will change everything, the way steam power or electricity did, the way the internet is altering our world in ways we never imagined.

If this sounds ominous instead of amazing, you’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies about killer robots! In the past, our tools made us stronger and faster, capable of lifting mountains and rocketing into space. Our new tools will make us smarter, enabling us to better understand our world and ourselves.

“AI, just like all human technology, is agnostic. It can be used for good or evil”.

Deep Blue didn’t understand chess, or even know it was playing chess, but it played it very well. We may not comprehend all the rules our machines invent, or predict all the ways they will change our lives, but we will benefit from them nonetheless. Remember that AI, just like all human technology, is agnostic. It can be used for good or evil. The smartphone in everyone’s pocket is an incredible tool for education, communication, commerce, and entertainment. It can also be used to spread propaganda or build a terrorist network.

Better technology, smarter technology, does not change human nature. It empowers us, for better and for worse. That is why we must remember that creating better humans will always be more important than creating smarter machines.

Do not be afraid, because fear will only hold us back. I ask you to keep that in mind that trying to slow things down will only make it easier for our machines to surpass us. They will take over more and more routine tasks, so our goal must to keep creating new tasks that aren’t routine. And so, we must be ambitious, aim high into the unknown, so we have new jobs, new industries, that require uniquely human creativity. Our intelligent machines will help us achieve these dreams if we use them wisely.

Our real challenge is to keep thinking up new directions for artificial intelligence to explore—and that’s a job that can never be done by a machine.


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