Guest Blog: What If? A Thoughtful, Global Approach to Artificial Intelligence Could Initiate a New Renaissance

Peter Prodromou

By RJ Bardsley, Chief Strategist at Racepoint Global 

In common parlance, The Renaissance was a period of history from the 14th to the 17th century that bridged the Middle Ages with the Modern Age. It was a period in which “new thinking became manifested in art, architecture, politics, science, and literature,” according to Wikipedia. In my last post, I examined the difficulty in cutting through the myth and marketing behind AI – and that’s important because we need to be able to make an accurate assessment of where things lie. But for this post, I want to suspend that examination. Instead, I want to look at a world of “what if.” What could the world look like when we have widely deployed instances of artificial intelligence if it’s all really good? What will it look like when machines are learning and making decisions independently of us? Sure, things could go wrong; it could be scary. But it could also be magnificent if we make the right decisions. 

The Renaissance cannot be fear based 

“From diagnosing cancer and understanding climate change to delivering risky and consuming jobs, AI is already showing its potential for good,” says Mariarosaria Taddeo, deputy director of the Digital Ethics Lab at Oxford University in a recent story in the Wired UK. “The question is how can we harness this potential?”

The focus for developing AI must be on how we make the most out of AI – through the combination of Human Talent and AI. We need to resist the temptation to take a fear-based approach to AI. Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and The Terminator have helped crystalize a fear in the human psyche of the bad things that can arise from AI out of control.

But the opposite of this is also possible. To start with, AI will do amazing things by itself. Taddeo provides examples of this ranging from helping to identify and diagnose cancer to studying coral reefs and combating the effects of global warming. The possibilities go beyond this; what really fascinates me is what is possible when AI and humanity are integrated and these technologies provide us with entirely new opportunities for collaboration, creativity, and security. Imagine what happens when a fashion designer with brilliant talent and imagination teams up with AI that can analyze the history of fashion and predict new trends? Imagine what writers and artists can produce when they have AI to draw from for inspiration, accuracy, perspective, and education? Imagine what happens when an engineer with the drive to build something new meets the resources and analysis AI can provide on systems integration, network usage or silicon yield? 

What if we all come together to shape AI? 

In my first piece on AI for this organization, I posted about the Partnership on AI, an organization set up by the likes of Amazon, Apple, IBM, Facebook, Google and Microsoft to study and formulate best practice guidelines on AI. Since then, several other companies have joined the organization, including Deutsche Telecom, the UN, The University of Tokyo, PayPal, the MIT Media Lab, GLAAD and the Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative at Brown University among 18 others. What I really like about the participants in the organization is that they are from all over the world and from all parts of society. Shaping AI around a pluralistic view of society, one that includes points of view from Tokyo to Berlin to Raleigh; from Big Corporations to the LGBT community; from Wikipedia to the UN is how we ensure that we build in an egalitarian worldview. But more importantly, it provides a much deeper platform for machine learning; pulling from all walks of life gives us the greatest potential for broader innovation. This also gives us the best chance of ensuring that we avoid unfair discrimination or biases that can go (unintentionally) unchecked if a more homogenous group is left to define AI best practices.

This is the start of a truly new Renaissance… one that has yet to be defined by all of us.


Side Bar 

Envisioning the Renaissance: Taking a page out of fiction

If you have any space left on your fall reading list, I would urge you to pick up the book Plum Rains by Andromeda Romana-Lax. In it, the author explores the outcome of many decisions we’re now faced with around Artificial Intelligence. It’s the kind of view into the future that we in the tech industry should be observing closely. She captures the struggle that science has with applying a thoughtful, ethical approach to AI and what happens when that approach is adhered to and when it founders. I don’t often recommend novels, especially in posts about technology. But in this case, I do because it gives us a view of what culture and society could look like in the future. Romana-Lax also shows a step-by-step history illustrating how things came to be the way they are in her novel.


Interested in submitting a piece for the NC TECH blog?

Visit our Marketing Toolkit page for a submission form. Questions? Contact Rachel Kennedy.
Back to Top