A.I. Technology – A Lesson in Humanity?

Happy Monday!!!

The topic for tonight’s blog came to me last night as I was watching “WestWorld”. After a great episode, I started thinking about some of the advertisements and posts I’ve been seeing lately promoting A.I. marketing technologies, V.R. toys and self-driving Uber cars. I’ve always been a firm believer that the realm of science-fiction and comics are akin to what mythology was to the Ancient Greeks. Tales of super humans and gods – all with an allegorical message and warning for humanity.

One of my all-time favorite movie quotes is from “Jurassic Park” by Dr. Ian Macolm:

Jeff-Goldblum-GIF

I find the dichotomy between the two questions being asked most interesting about this quote.

Let’s start with the “could”. The idea that with technology we can develop self-driving cars, soft-ware packages that can make all our marketing decisions for us or drones that can drop bombs without human pilots(“Terminator”) is both amazing and breath-taking in scope. Human have the ability to develop these new toys that promise to make our lives and jobs easier, so obviously the “Could” or “can we” is the part of this equation that excite us, but also blinds us (some would even call it hubris).

However, it’s the “should” part that is more important. Should we be allowing machines to drive themselves? Should we keep creating better, more “human” versions of Alexa(did some say Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey?) as a way to replace the way we order online or live our lives. All the advancements I mentioned above appeared as themes in science-fiction movies and literature over the years with overly dramatized repercussions.

I am not saying we shouldn’t use the technology available to us to make life easier. The great concept that science-fiction points out is we let our curiosity go too far, push the limits of the uses of technology and lose a little bit of our own humanity in the process.

In the marketing industry, predictive tools and A.I. programs that can make decisions behind the scenes on marketing promotions sounds great. All you have to do is push a button or use the software and your job is done. However, I can tell you that in my career – using predictive analytic technology to model or profile customer samples, while the decisions made by the computer were completely statistically valid – they sometime didn’t make sense from a business perspective. The technology is only as good as the data that it is given. Without marketing professionals reading the output and knowing the end goal, the results can be perfectly correct but also perfectly incorrect. It’s the human component that is needed to validate if the profile or model looks correct. 

I’ve briefly touched on this topic in an earlier post “Smart” Technology and Life. Much like the quote from the fictional Dr. Malcolm, in the rush to embrace new technology and all it offers, we need to take a step back and consider the darker side of what it offers.

No one will debate that Andriod and Apple have forever changed how we communicate and has given us multiple ways to keep in touch with our colleagues, friends and families. We can video chat, text or call from anywhere and at any given moment. But on the flip side, we are never unreachable. If you need that moment to center yourself, are you ever really given a moment to be alone?

Additionally, it’s now common to see people in the same room or at the same dinner table communicating via text rather then engaging in conversation. This is another potential side-effect that while we are able to instantly communicate – we somehow have lost a piece of social interaction, face to face conversations.

The emergence of social media channels has been a boon for the marketing industry. Targeting our prospects with offers in their Facebook news feed, Instagram and Twitter accounts or directly to their smart devices has made delivery of our messaging instantaneous. We can keep in touch with family and friends who live near and far sharing important events and moments in our lives. But there is a dark side to social media as well. We’ve all seen the stories of adolescents being bullied to the point that they take their own lives. We’ve seen people lose friendships over political postings or disagreements via social media. And this is not even touching the data breach that Facebook had during the 2016 election. We put our faith in these technologies and share personal information via their platforms and sometimes that faith is not rewarded.

One of the quotes that struck me most from the episode was ““That, darling, is the sound of fools fiddling while the whole species starts to burn. They lit the match“, spoken by Logan Delos to Dolores. While a bit overly dramatic, the message is clear. While we bask in the amazement of what we can accomplish, are we blissfully unaware that we may be the fools fiddling? I hope not and as we evolve as a species and incorporate technology into our daily lives more and more, let’s never forget that the greatest technology we have is our human intellect. No self-driving car, A.I program that can analyze results or smart device will ever be more powerful that that ancient and original technology.

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