Asking AI the weird questions- again

“Who am I?” “You are the man who will kill your father and marry your mother.” Yep--it's time to ask the AI the weird questions again.

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I don’t know if you have ever heard the story about Oedipus from the Greek mythology. In it, the unfortunate Oedipus ask the oracle in Delphi who he is. The oracle gives him the cryptic answer that he is the man who will kill his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to outrun this prophesy, he leaves his home and his family. But what Oedipus does not know is that he is a foster child and by leaving his home he encounters his real parents. And in the end, the decision to leave home actually leads him to fulfilling the prophesy.

We are moving into a reality where machines are helping us interpret our reality. We gather data, we set up advanced algorithms, and with the help of machine intelligence we can reveal patterns that was previously unknown to us. And if a machine has access to tremendous amount of data, far beyond what we ourselves can handle, it would be fair to assume that the machine will have a wider understanding than we have. In a way, it will be omniscient.

Ok, it is still some way to go before our machines becomes all-knowing. Nevertheless, we are already envisioning benefits where we are being supported by an AI in our daily life. In our latest sets of the 10 Hot consumer trends we saw that AI’s are expected to be everywhere.

But when the intelligence of the machines goes beyond human capacity, even if it is only within a specific area, there will be challenges we need to address. For instance, given our different level of intelligence, a conversation between us might be like between a human and a dog. So when asking our machines questions we might have a challenge to interpret or understand the answers we get.

A pop culture example of this challenge can be read in the classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A supercomputer (deep thought) is built to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe and to everything. The answer it produces after seven and a half million years of thinking is “42.” Frustrated, the creators of the computer decide to build a new, even more advanced, supercomputer (Earth) to determine what the question was in the first place.

If we are to use AI’s in our daily lives we need be sure we understand the answers we get and what led up to the conclusion. It might not matter if you only want a recommendation for a movie. But if the AI’s answer has a greater impact on your life you would want to understand the reasoning. Why was your application for a bank loan turned down? Why where you passed over for the promotion you expected? Why should your division cancel your latest project? Or imagine asking questions as from my previous blogpost on the topic; Who should I marry in order to get a successful marriage? Or Who should I vote for?

Depending on where you implement an AI its reasoning will be of different importance. But already today  some of AI technology is simply opaque. It can’t be transparent on how it came to its conclusion. And what will you do with an answer if you don’t know what led up to it?

Going back to poor Oedipus: In the end the oracle had a greater understanding of all things coming into play. Oedipus did the best possible interpretation based on the knowledge he had. The story would likely have ended differently if the oracle had elaborated a bit more. But the purpose of the myth is not a happy ending but to share some wisdom. So let’s have poor Oedipus in mind when we think about how, when and what AI we implement to support us in our conclusions and decisions.

Link to previous blog “Asking AI the weird questions

Link to the 10 Hot consumer trends


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