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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Artificial intelligence and the role of Government: human advice will be key for new minister

Last week, the UAE announced a new MInister of State for Artificial Intelligence. Kamiel Gabriel explores the opportunities and challenges this portfolio presents

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched the UAE's first Artificial Intelligence strategy last week. Courtesy Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and The Future
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched the UAE's first Artificial Intelligence strategy last week. Courtesy Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and The Future

In his most recent cabinet reshuffle, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced the appointment of Oman bin Sultan Al Olama, 27, as the country's first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence. The appointment arrived just two days after Sheikh Mohammed unveiled the UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, a major initiative in the UAE Centennial 2071 objectives. In his speech, Sheikh Mohammed said AI is "the new wave after the Smart Government upon which all our services, sectors and future infrastructure will rely on".

As some experts put it, AI is a manifestation of the human mind that allows us to better understand the world around us. AI has the capacity to replicate the human mind in its functions. Some have likened it to a new art replicating the human mind not with colours, but with codes. Future AI will allow us to improve , compose better and more wholesome decisions as a group, improve health care and cure diseases of the mind and provide new and advanced cures to mental diseases such as dementia. Some experts see AI as a platform to develop “mental wheelchairs” for people suffering from Alzheimer's.

With such advances, one must also ask: what else AI could do once it replicates the human mind? Can it help to increase the happiness of individuals suffering from depression? Is it only going to be used in a “friendly” way? Or will there be a great risk associated with its use in the dark side of humanity? Would individuals ultimately lose their sense of responsibility and blame their actions on AI?

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As research and development increase, allowing rapid technology advancement, some proponents of AI believe that it will help solve complex societal challenges and offer immortality via virtual humans. But AI’s critics are sounding the alarm that the development of AI is an “existential threat” to mankind. One may ask: is this fiction or true? Is it possible that we will see the Terminator become reality one day? Or, will such fears prevent us from reaching the next technological revolution?

One expert sees AI as a threat. Jaron Lanier, the originator of virtual reality and author of Who Owns The Future?, argues that the use of AI will ultimately devalue human intelligence and creativity and has the potential to minimise or even diminish the role of “conscious experience”. He argues that failing to have our conscience guide us in distinguishing between good and evil would send us down a slippery slope that leads to destroying ourselves from within. He also says that, by allowing AI to reshape our concepts of personhood, we will leave ourselves vulnerable to thinking of people as computers, just as we often think of computers as people as we interact with them through social media.

On the other side of the debate, Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information at Oxford University, denies that computers are an “existential threat” to humanity. He argues that computers, regardless of what advances we are able to achieve with their developments, have “no understanding, no conscience, and no intuitions”. He adds that computers do not possess an autonomous mental life like humans.

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But what about the scientists whose viewpoints Floridi so casually dismisses? Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have both spoken publicly on the potential danger of artificial intelligence warning that computers can in fact learn to think for themselves. Hawking in 2014 stated that the development of full artificial intelligence, with its ability to enslave mankind, is a threat to the future of humanity. Ironically, in December 2015, Musk co-founded “OpenAI”, a non-profit artificial intelligence research company with the stated goal of advancing "digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole”.

A third view asserts that the best possible “post-human future” is achievable only by ensuring that human enhancement technologies are safe, made available to everyone and respect the right of individuals to control their own bodies. This view is supported by the assertion that politicians and economists have yet to face the fact that an increasingly automated economy will ultimately lead to the decline of human employment, and thus the establishment of basic income guarantee programmes need to be looked at seriously to preserve people’s self-worth by allocating some jobs to be only done by humans.

So, what is my take on all of this? I believe that the UAE Government is very progressive in making AI one of its top priorities for its future development as a progressive and forward-thinking country. As stated by Sheikh Mohammed, AI is to be used to advance the effectiveness of the delivery of government services, including smart infrastructure, transportation, education and health.

For such ambitions, the UAE Government should be lauded. At the same time, the government needs to be prudent so as not to allow predators to take advantage of such advancement and develop destructive programs and codes. The new minister must rely on high-level experts in the field of artificial intelligence to provide sound advice and assess new AI-based technologies to protect public safety and pay regard to the human mind and its conscience.