Humans, AI, Bots, Progress, Diversity: Where are we today?

The subject of Artificial Intelligence provokes debate, questions, futuristic ideations and long technical articles today. How can we talk about AI and all contribute to setting up the field for our future that will -it seems- be built on/with AI as one of the core components of humanity’s evolution? Also, how can non-technical people think about AI so that it creates value for a business or a community, and what should be said about AI to stop projecting false assumptions and prepare our future “with AI”?

This article attempts to share part of the “why” PocketConfidant exists today: supporting emotional intelligence and the development of critical-thinking; building good technologies which serve and contribute to our humanity and are not barriers to human development. As our Mission & Role states: Our mission is to create a solution for self-reflection and personal growth that empowers individuals and organizations in an ethical, flexible, scalable and inexpensive way. We are choosing to be attentive listeners, life-long learners and to pioneer capacity building through A.I.

It seems that we are now at a point where the path to technological progress is not the only important consideration in our society anymore. Instead, learning about the latest AI advances also lies in thinking about the future of Human-Machine interactions and cooperation; and what should we start to do, think or talk about in order to balance and prepare the field to welcome the indubitable arrival of intelligent machines. As in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth, it seems to be more important and more value-added to think about how to organize the “match” between humans and machines, in order to start writing the future lines of our story, where each of us can be supported and not defeated. Let’s think a moment, if we know something is coming, then what is the most-valuable behavior: trying to block it, or working on creating new models of co-existence, where the ratio can be a win-win and not a question of force, power, or purely economic gain or loss? Lots of things are to be considered and questioned, for sure. What we believe at PocketConfidant AI is that no matter what the future holds, supporting people at scale, enabling them to decrease their level of stress, become more resilient and “own” their own thinking, stay creative, altruistic and positive is the benefit we can offer.

Let’s review some links, ideas and content on AI, and look at one of the latest AI research projects which touches the subject of diversity and ethics.

To begin, this article in the HuffingonPost explains it well: “Stop thinking of robots. A robot is a container for AI, the AI itself is the computer inside the robot. AI is the brain, and the robot is its body. For example, the software and data behind Siri is AI, the woman’s voice we hear is a personification of that AI, and there’s no robot involved at all.”

The same article also teaches us more about the three categories of Artificial Intelligence, and the one that is most prevalent today “ANI” or Artificial Narrow Intelligence. It is so named because it focuses on one domain only whereas other AI addresses many domains at the same time.

As Tim Urban explains it in the article: “Artificial narrow intelligence is machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence or efficiency at a specific thing”. Here are some examples of AI in use today:

  • Cars are full of ANI systems, from the computer that figures out when anti-lock brakes should kick in, to the computer that tunes the parameters of the fuel-injection systems.
  • Your phone receives tailored music recommendations from Pandora, checks tomorrow’s weather, talks to Siri or engages in dozens of other daily activities.
  • Your email spam filter figures out what’s spam and what’s not, and then it learns and tailors its intelligence to you as it gains experience with your particular preferences.
  • When searching for a product on Amazon, unsolicited, other product recommendations pop up; same when Facebook somehow knows who it makes sense for you to add as a friend.
  • Google Translate is impressively good at one narrow task. Voice recognition is another, and there are a bunch of apps that allow you to speak a sentence in one language and have the phone spit out the same sentence in another.
  • When a plane lands, it’s not a human that decides which gate it should go to, just like it’s not a human that determined the price of your ticket.
  • The world’s best checkers, chess, Scrabble, backgammon, and Othello players are now AI (ANI).

In another domain, Pierre Dussault, Canadian personal coach, engineer and AI-thinker, contributed to an article for the Worldwide Coaching Magazine in June 2017. This issue is totally dedicated to AI and the impact it will have on personal development and coaching. As Pierre says “After extensive research and discussion with an AI world renowned expert, I concluded that within 5 to 10 years there would be an AI-driven app available for coaching on the market. Only a few weeks after the publication of the magazine, I was contacted by the CEO of PocketConfidant AI and I realized that what I was expecting in 5 to 10 years was in fact already here. In late August, I attended ICF Converge, the biggest convention of ICF coaches of the decade and listened to many different talks on the future of coaching and the future potential impacts of AI in the world and on coaching. After each presentation, I spoke to the presenters and informed them about the existence of PocketConfidant and they were all very surprised about its existence… Most people in the field of coaching are not aware that an AI-driven app is available today!”

As AI is increasingly becoming the new norm, and reshaping our world step-by-step, it is interesting to move away from the technical talk for a while and think of how we will manage its implementation. The way people will best understand and make sense of AI will be through their personal experience, how the organizations and communities they are connected with use and interact with it.

The importance of the user’s experience.

Switching areas of reflection, here is a very interesting article on about User Experience (UX) to share some thinking about how businesses can, or should, approach AI to improve and enhance their processes. “Strategically speaking, a brilliant data-driven algorithm typically matters less than thoughtful UX design. Thoughtful UX designs can better train machine learning systems to become even smarter. The most effective data scientists I know learn from use-case and UX-driven insights. […] The quest for better outcomes shifts from training smarter algorithms to figuring out how the use case should evolve. That drives machine learning and organizational learning alike.”

The last sentence is key and important to emphasize: “The quest for better outcomes shifts from training smarter algorithms to figuring out how the use case should evolve. That drives machine learning and organizational learning alike.” While many people try to understand how AI works and where it may not be as efficient as a human, what is important to focus on is the use case. The use case is about the following elements:

  • The problem: What pain, inefficiency or routine are you trying to solve?
  • The goal: What is that you wish to accomplish, provide or automate?
  • Who: Who is, the person or the team, going to interact with it, possibly teach it or spend most time with it?
  • The size: what is the size of your ecosystem, or what is the size of your client?
  • Your budget: how much are you willing to invest?
  • Your time: how urgent and on which timeline are you considering this project?

According to the HBR article about AI and User Experience, we should remember to look at the kind of service, or personality, that organizations are starting to develop with the use of AI. Indeed, looking at AI’s use, we now hear talk about Assistants, Guides, Colleagues and even Bosses. All of them relating to the questions we addressed above and that attempt to clearly focus on, or highlight, a key issue that you and your organization need to address. In the end, it seems that we are still not reinventing any wheel, we are just using scientific progress to improve our existing processes and free humans from repetitive and routine tasks, tasks that consume budget, create choke points or require administrative processes that we could see as a) killing human intelligence, b) eating intellectual time.

It seems that AI is a lot more about a UX approach, or needs to have the UX thinking, for more efficiency and more recognition of human time and human aspirations. Who would prefer to be standing all day long and repeat the same task thousands of times for thousands of people?

Other perspectives for talking about AI…

We recently talked with Edward D. Hess, author of this HBR article about the Age of AI: “The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning. Quantity is replaced by quality. And that shift will enable us to focus on the hard work of taking our cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.” In this paradigm, AI is again connected to the need of linking technological progress and human skills, human personalities and humans’ roles in a group or society.

TheAtlantic’s article puts the AI discussion in a different way: “In a world of digital assistants and computer-generated imagery, the expectation is that computers do all kinds of work for humans. The result of which, some have argued, is a dulling of the senses. [..] Our ability to dream, elsewhere in the arts, may be intact, but computers are encroaching on all sorts of creative territory.”

Will we have to ask ourselves the question of where we put our own creative efforts? Will we want/expect AI to do everything for us, making our life easier but reducing our capacity for imagination, creative endeavors, learning, living passionately? Surely there will be a balance where AI complements our efforts, making our life easier in some areas in order to free us up to explore our most creative human capacities.

If you want to dig deeper on AI and the debate, then read this (very) long and complete article, where you’ll learn that “not shockingly, opinions vary wildly and this is a heated debate among scientists and thinkers. Many […] agree with machine learning expert Jeremy Howard when he puts up this graph during a TED Talk.” Or/and have a look at the TED talk, it may give you a very good and visual insight on the latest progress of machine intelligence.

An interesting take away for us from the TED talk is the ease and speed of searching for information, and apparently for searching and identify very quickly both similarities and differences in data collected by the AI. Indeed, it is as important to identify similarities in a group of data (or people) as it is to identify differences, because it is, in the end, with the differences that we become aware of new patterns. For us, this is a great discussion because it focuses on where machine intelligence can augment our work and enable us to better observe our behaviors, actions, personalities or decisions.

The biggest possible impact of AI.

To switch up the AI discussion one more time, this article from IBM proposes a valid, positive and very constructive vision of technologies: “Cognitive systems in particular are not about replacing human beings, but helping them. They are freeing people up to do more strategic work.”
In this recent article, we published the research of Dr Roy van den Brink-Budgen, making links between critical thinking skills, coaching and AI. For us, there is a narrow separation, if not really a bridge, between the visions expressed in the previous articles from IBM, Edward D. Hess, The Atlantic, and the UX/User Experience approach.

Michael Schrage, from MIT, reports in his recent article: “Over the past 20 years, my design research emphasis has radically flipped from how can people create more valuable innovation, to how can innovation create more valuable people? […] In essence, the more creatively, comprehensively, and innovatively we digitize our selves, the greater the opportunities we have for helping people define, design, and develop the optimal, traits and attributes they desire. […] The premise is that digital technology can drive greater self-awareness and self-assessment about how individuals create and contribute to enterprise value. The design focus shifts from digital assistants to digital assistance. Think of an AI that stands for Augmented Introspection as well as Artificial Intelligence.”

It seems that the biggest paradigm shift that AI is requiring us to face and work with, is that machine intelligence is going to disrupt our ego, because it will learn larger quantities of information, faster and will address all kinds of tasks whether we want it to or not. The question of powerful algorithms is only a part of the equation in the AI discussion, and there are other key pieces that remain in our – humans – hands: what experience do we, as a human, want to have with and without AI? What part do we want to delegate to AI to free up our time? How ready are we to bring reflection to the AI UX? And how likely are we to accept that we could potentially empower humanity by giving people, workers, kids, a new way to develop their skills, and to spend more time pursuing creative or strategic activities?

AI, diversity and ethics.

Now, we would like to share our vision on an aspect that we don’t really talk about and that may make a big difference in the AI discussion. We had the good fortune to meet Josephine Swords, AI researcher on “Artificial Intelligence and Young Women’s Leadership”. Here below are some insights from her work and some of her thinking on gender-related issues:

“When technological products and services are built, the people who build them either subconsciously or deliberately encode a set of values and perspectives into that technology. As a result, the technology embodies these values and then, through use by an external customer, reproduces these values.
For example, Tinder is a successful dating app which revolutionized the online dating space. The team at Tinder is male-dominated and has been slow to respond to harassment of its female users by its male users. In addition, Tinder itself was subject to a high profile sexual harassment case brought by its only female co-founder. In this example, it’s possible to assume that the values of masculinity within the company (which led to sexual harassment of a woman leader within the company) have been embedded and reproduced within the Tinder product, thereby enabling its customer base to take on and act out these values (leading to sexual harassment of women users on Tinder). It becomes a circular relationship, resulting in both the tech industry being a hostile place for women to work but also the tech products being hostile for women to use. While this is deeply troubling, it is by no means inevitable. The female co-founder who left Tinder subsequently developed Bumble, a rival dating app which has mechanisms in place to protect its women users from harassment, such as women being the only ones with the power to initiate contact. Bumble has recently implemented a ‘BFF’ function at the request of its users, which connects women to each other in order to make new friends and strengthen women’s support networks.
The solution, in my opinion, is to look at ways to intervene in how this technology is being designed and built. One such way is to have strong governance of these products, whereby a diversity of voices can have input into the overarching purpose and conceptual design of the product; a second way is to appoint diverse teams to build and test these products; and a third is to interrogate who the ‘target user or users of a product is, and design the interface and representation of the technology in such a way that doesn’t reinforce negative power dynamics or illegal practices such as sexual harassment. Because of the meteoric rise of AI, there’s a fake cloak of neutrality around it – that because it’s innovative and it’s technology-based, it’s neutral. Well, as the Tinder and Bumble examples show, that’s not necessarily true and if we consciously embed the values we believe in into the technology it can have a transformative effect on the people who use it.“

Josephine Swords conducted this research study to fulfill an MSc in Management of Innovation at Goldsmiths College (University of London). With her research Josie is looking to 1) conduct a feminist critique of how the purpose and development of AI are currently imagined, and 2) develop a method for positively expressing feminist values in future AI services and products.

“The output of the research is to develop a design intervention which attempts to address and overcome the issues raised in a feminist critique of Artificial Intelligence. This research will create a method for designing the capabilities and characteristics of an AI chatbot which can be considered feminist. This method will be tested in a social justice-oriented Hackathon in order to understand its impact on chatbot design, with a long term aim to create a useful model for embedding feminist values and ethics in future AI services and products.” We look forward to following her work and invite you to follow her progress. For more insights, you can download her research summary on Designing Feminist Chatbots.

At PocketConfidant AI, we want to support diversity-focused mindsets, especially on technological developments. As Josephine said in one of her newest works (to be released soon), “The aim of the following questions is to deepen how you think about the values you will be embedding in your chatbot during the conceptual design phase. These questions aim to make your chatbot better by ensuring it doesn’t knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate gender inequality.”

We think this statement supports the whole set of values that coaching is fostering – that PocketConfidant AI’s team is translating into a real technology – and is about provoking people’s awareness of the fact that how you think and how you behave on an everyday basis is embedded in the outcome and consequences of your actions. That is to say, we have to step-back and consider that we can bring a real value-added balance in beliefs and behaviors by promoting diverse thinking among diverse groups so that we can together build a powerful, diversified, intelligent and humanity-oriented future.

Improving the Quality of Our Thinking.

Before we conclude this reflection on AI advancements we would like to share another piece of the HBR article written by Edward D. Hess talking about the AI’s Age and what is to ‘be smart’:
“The challenge for many of us is that we do not excel at those skills because of our natural cognitive and emotional proclivities: We are confirmation-seeking thinkers and ego-affirmation-seeking defensive reasoners. We will need to overcome those proclivities in order to take our thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating skills to a much higher level. […] What is needed is a new definition of being smart, one that promotes higher levels of human thinking and emotional engagement. […] We will practice adjusting after our mistakes, and we will invest more in the skills traditionally associated with emotional intelligence. The new smart will be about trying to overcome the two big inhibitors of critical thinking and team collaboration: our ego and our fears. Doing so will make it easier to perceive reality as it is, rather than as we wish it to be. In short, we will embrace humility. That is how we humans will add value in a world of smart technology.”

Overcoming Our Self-Limiting Cognitive & Emotional Proclivities.

In conclusion, our perspective is that in the face of the already huge and ongoing progress in computer science, we must stay alert and keep mindfully integrating ethical behavior and broad diversity into our technological developments. Every advance in our understanding of neuroscience and cognitive science is being reflected in the AI products we are building. AI is learning how to think like us through the research we are doing to understand our own human processes. This is the revolution that is upon us. All of us who are contributing to the development of AI have the responsibility to build with a mindset of “AI for good”. At PocketConfidant we are building an AI that will help individuals ask themselves better questions, reflect, improve their critical thinking skills and with intention make better decisions. As AI becomes a mirror for our own thinking we have the opportunity to further develop our human capacities for empathy, compassion, curiosity, discernment and humility. AI will perhaps be the best development we’ve ever made if it helps us move beyond our self-limiting “cognitive and emotional proclivities”.

In this article, we covered the following topics:

  • The main “type of AI” we can see and use today, is ANI – Narrow Artificial Intelligence.
  • The need to develop critical life skills such as listening, communicating and emotional intelligence.
  • The fact that AI seems to be contributing to freeing up human time to dedicate less time to routine-like tasks, and more time to creative and strategic activities.
  • Diversity and the balance of men vs women in the building of digital products and services.

True human intelligence with AI.

AI will perhaps help develop true human intelligence, where it will not be measured as a competitive tool, but recognized as an asset everyone possesses in their unique way, and technologies will support us in creating the space and time to observe, develop and embrace our unique talents and aptitudes. It is important to embrace change, and believe AI can have a very positive impact on our society. Potentially it is all about the way we will work on it.

We would love to hear your comments and questions, so do not hesitate to contact us by email, or via Facebook, Twitter, Linked in, Medium or Quora.