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AI is coming: How to deal with this new type of intelligence

Greg Freiherr | Aug. 25, 2015
The future of AI will be determined to a large extent by our ability to nurture a positive working relationship with this new type of intelligence. And that won’t be easy.

CAD’s big break came as an adjunct to digital mammography. It was to this branch of women’s health what the spellchecker is to writing.  From the outset, CAD software was highly sensitive, but notoriously nonspecific.  It would identify just about every possible lesion in an image. This was very annoying to the mammographer who had to go back and essentially re-interpret the image. Yet, mammographers embraced CAD as an aide.

To be sure, CAD has gotten better. But it still has a ways to go. One of the limiters may be the lack of something only people can provide – trust.  “Suboptimal performance of the human–automation team is often caused by an inappropriate level of trust in the automation,” opines one researcher who is looking into ways to make CAD more effective. “(Physicians) sometimes under-trust CAD, thereby reducing its potential benefits, and sometimes over-trust it, leading to diagnostic errors they would not have made without CAD.”  

Given what Watson might be able to achieve through IBM’s proposed acquisition of Merge Healthcare, healthcare might be in for a big boost.  But it’s only going to happen, if people understand what machines can – and cannot – do.

Trust and teamwork sound like strange goals when talking about the relationship between people and machines. But meeting those goals could be critically important. It’s good to be wary. Look no further than Commander Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey) locked outside the pod bay door in Jupiter orbit. But, if and when machines become intelligent, we’re going to have to assess their capabilities and treat them accordingly.

It may take an attitude adjustment on our part, whereby we don’t look at machine intelligence so much as artificial as assistive.

Seven years ago a mechanical engineer hinted at exactly that in an IEEE abstract, describing “the development of intelligent task-driven socially assistive robots.”  

Today there’s a forum entitled “Assistive Intelligence And Technology.”

A few days ago a story in Fast Company appeared under the title “Don’t call it AI: Put away your fears of artificial intelligence. Assistive intelligence is the future.”  

And so it has begun, swapping terms for AI, as we did for CAD.  But, as in CAD, a word swap won’t be enough.

We must be ready to view intelligent machines as “teammates.” Subordinate ones, of course. Limited in their ability.  Beholding to us for having created them.  But…not so obviously that we hurt their feelings.

 Let’s not be stupid about it.


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