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Is AI Moving Too Fast?

David asks, “I understand from today’s Denver Post that governments worldwide are putting the brakes on technology, particularly AI. Do you think that that will be good?

In my youth, I would have immediately and unquestionably derided them for doing so. Technology is an incredibly powerful tool… and with the wisdom of years and tons of bad experiences, I think that people should move forward with technology at a pace that’s commensurate with their ability to use it responsibly.

I liken it to any other powerful tool. A katana in the hands of a skilled swordsman is a magical thing to watch. The swordsman and the sword are indistinguishable, and their control means they can choose to do whatever they wish with it. They could behead someone, certainly. But they could also trim your mustache precisely with it, with you incurring no other harm.

Now, would you give that same sword to a white belt, to a person who just walked into your martial arts school? I would certainly hope not. That could be lethally irresponsible, on the part of both the student and the teacher. No, you give that person the sword made of foam rubber and you supervise them carefully over the years, until they gain proficiency and mastery.

AI is a set of tools, nothing more. Like a sword, they do nothing sitting by themselves. Only when human hands take them up do they create great good – or great harm. AI has already brought great benefit to people; every time you shop or search for something and you find exactly what you want, you’re reaping the benefits of it. Every time a medical diagnosis is corrected, a hidden cancer discovered that human eyes missed on your MRI, you’re reaping the benefits of AI.

But as with any tool, there are those who misuse it. Every time a social media post leads you further away from truth, you’re being subject to unethical AI. Every time facial recognition profiles you without your consent, every time you’re denied a loan by a system that gives no explanation, every time your Facebook or Youtube account is flagged for “bad behavior” with no reason given, you’re being subject to unethical AI.

Legislators aren’t, generally speaking, the most forward thinking people. They’re often tasked with legislating things they just don’t understand. Look how many years – and how many bad laws – accumulated over the Internet itself, because some fool thought it was literally a series of tubes. Like many humans, legislators create laws based on what they understand, and what they understand most often is firmly lodged in the past.

Combine that with a hyperpartisan atmosphere where political positions have the same fervor – and danger – as religious beliefs, and it’s not a bad thing for governments to slow down and give some real thought to what they’re doing with AI to ensure it’s fair and non-discriminatory. The nature of government is such that once you implement something, no matter how good or bad it is, it tends to stay around. For example, it is still illegal in the state of Massachusetts to swear at a sporting event. Thankfully, no one enforces that law, or else the entirety of the Red Sox nation would be convicted.

So, is AI moving too fast? I’d argue that in commercial usage, different parts are moving at different speeds and they need to be moving together:

  • The technology is moving plenty fast.
  • The incorporation of ethics isn’t moving nearly fast enough.
  • The training of people on how to work with it isn’t moving nearly fast enough.

To return to the original analogy, we’re making better swords every day, but we’re still not teaching people how to safely and responsibly use them. If we want AI to be an integral part of our businesses and our societies, we need to teach people how to safely and responsibly use it. Until then, governments slowing down the adoption of AI isn’t a bad thing at all.

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