By Dr. Ian Clarke
There is much debate about artificial intelligence, or AI, and what effect it will have on the future of mankind. But perhaps we should not be worried, since we are already suffering the effects of a lack of rationality in decision making by the world leaders, so AI could be an improvement.
Relatively early in our development as the human race we were able to think abstractly and come up with concepts, such as using currency to trade, and having a sense of nationhood, which helped us to develop. On the other hand, it has not been a smooth ride and some of these concepts taken to extreme, have resulted in wars and destruction.
Our development has been slow and incremental over tens of thousands of years, until the last two hundred years, when things speeded up due to the industrial revolution. Then, in the last few decades the speed of human development has taken off because of the IT revolution – bringing computerization, the digital age, the internet, cloud computing and AI. Unfortunately, as we industrialized we also caused pollution of our planet, and as we became more dependent on the hydrocarbons we have built up the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and precipitated global warming.
Gradually, humankind has been waking up to the reality of climate change and the urgency to do something to slow down global warming. Agreement was reached at the ‘Paris Accord’ that nations would take positive measures to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Then along came Donald Trump, claiming that climate change is a figment of imagination, and pulled America out of the Paris Accord. I need not detail many of the other controversial decisions, which have been made by President Trump, suffice to say that they often don’t seem to be rational. The decision to deny the very existence of global warming is a prime example of lack of rationality that is having an adverse effect on our world today.
The problem is that Donald Trump has no basis on which to form his opinions and make decisions, apart from what he feels like at that very moment, because he does not read or receive evidence, or intelligence, before he simply tweets a decision. But even people who are very intelligent cannot absorb all the information in the world, which is the difference between the speed of the human brain and artificial intelligence. The tools at our disposal today make the internet into one big computer which can read every book, or research paper ever written, carry out meta-analysis and come up with the best evidence based decisions. We are able to link all the computers and knowledge in the world and produce analysis many times faster than the human brain can work.
This does not mean that computers will replace human beings, but it means that the evidence and rationale for important decisions can be greatly improved with the use of such technologies. If we take the example of Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, who closed his mind to contrary advice, threw his lot in with George W Bush, and went to war with Iraq. Would we have been saved from this whole chapter in human history if Blair and Bush had made a rational decision based on analysis of the facts?
Today, since we have access to the best intelligence on which we can base our decisions, we should be more rational and make better decisions, but that is not how the world seems to be going. Instead, emotions, ego, self-preservation, and stubbornness seem to be the factors behind major decisions. There is something in us all that thinks we know better, that we are right, not for any rational reason, but because we ‘know’ we are right. But the fact is that all human beings are influenced by biases, prejudices and a lack of objective knowledge of the facts, so we make biased decisions.
Donald Trump cannot be an effective President because he does not read, and has a short attention span when advisors are trying to explain things to him, so he makes decisions based on how he feels at the time. This is far from rational and the world is suffering as a result. Perhaps the world would be better off if we did let artificial intelligence make our major decisions. After all, this is how financial trading is now working, where humans have largely been eliminated because they make worse decisions than computers. Perhaps we would be better off if we allowed AI to take the place of irrational human decision makers.
Of course there are also dangers in delegating decisions to AI, mainly because AI might also have biases that we are not aware of.
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