Author of Team Human, Present Shock, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast http://medium.com/team-human

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We must not accept any technology as the default solution for our problems

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Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

Algorithms do reflect the brilliance of the engineers who craft them, as well as the power of iterative processes to solve problems in novel ways. They can answer the specific questions we bring them, or even generate fascinating imitations of human creations, from songs to screenplays. But we are mistaken if we look to algorithms for direction. They are not guided by a core set of values so much as by a specific set of outcomes. They are utilitarian.

To a hammer, everything is a nail. To an A.I., everything is a computational challenge.

We must not accept any technology as the default solution for our problems. When we do, we end up trying to optimize ourselves for our machines, instead of optimizing our machines for us. Whenever people or institutions fail, we assume they are simply lacking the appropriate algorithms or upgrades. …


Even if the candidates weren’t shouting over each other, did we really gain anything?

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Almost everyone seems to think last night’s debate was so much better than the first. To me, that’s a bit like saying having a stroke is much better than suffering a heart attack. It’s not. Even if it’s less painfully dramatic to watch, the damage is the same — or, in this case, actually worse.

A less unhinged president speaking lies in a calm voice is not fundamentally an improvement over a totally unhinged president shouting lies out of turn. It simply camouflages the inadequacy of his arguments under the veneer of a well-established format. Indeed, the debate structure itself enables and legitimizes the untethering of civic discourse from on-the-ground reality. …


A.I.s will evolve to use techniques that no one — not even they — understand

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Image: Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

A future where we’re all replaced by artificial intelligence may be further off than experts currently predict, but the readiness with which we accept the notion of our own obsolescence says a lot about how much we value ourselves. The long-term danger is not that we will lose our jobs to robots. We can contend with joblessness if it happens. The real threat is that we’ll lose our humanity to the value system we embed in our robots, and that they in turn impose on us.

Computer scientists once dreamed of enhancing the human mind through technology, a field of research known as intelligence augmentation. But this pursuit has been largely surrendered to the goal of creating artificial intelligence — machines that can think for themselves. All we’re really training them to do is manipulate our behavior and engineer our compliance. …

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