Chris Paine’s documentary film “Do you Trust this Computer” is a look in to the world of unregulated cross border digital giants, the quest for Artificial Intelligence, and what could happen if Artificial Intelligence decides that humanity is going to stand in the way of it attaining its goals.
A parade of technologists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and those working in AI unravel the advances that are happening in the world of machines learning more about us, and that information being used to manipulate us. The capacity of machines, says the documentary, to analyse terabytes of data in the fraction of a second, gives machines more insights into humans, than we ourselves would have. At a micro level, the machine possibly knows your tastes and interests better than you. At the macro level, when it is able to map the interests and tastes of all those like you (or me), it is able to nudge us to make decisions we many not have otherwise taken.
While technology by itself is neither good nor bad, there seems to be little thought given to what happens if people with not so honourable intentions get control of the data and use it to manipulate you. Among the more scary speakers on the documentary is Stuart Russel, who has worked extensively in the field of AI, and until recently was a staunch advocate.
Russel is the author of one of the key text books in the area of AI (he refers to it as the most downloaded pdf) Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach he sounds a warning bell about the nature of the beast. With a calm, academic demeanour, his warnings are a lot more stark than anyone elses.
The documentary also features Elon Musk, who used his instagram account to promote the film, giving his views on the technology that he believes is the most dangerous. He believes that we are already in the “Age of AI” and we just haven’t realised it yet. He warns that “AI doesn’t have to be evil to destroy humanity’ – it just has to perceive us as getting in its way of delivering whatever it is programmed to do.
The documentary wonders if AI would be the last invention made by humanity, before the machines take over. “Machines are natural psychopaths” says Professor Jerry Kaplan of Standford University. That they are relentless in the pursuit of a goal is a point mentioned many times in the documentary. For example, when Facebook was telling its machines that it wanted to expand engagement, it didn’t explicitly programme in the fact that this could not be via fake news or cat videos. And, so the machine went full steam ahead delivering those engagement figures, at the cost of truth.
While acknowledging the advances made in AI in making our lives better, and primarily using examples from the field of medicine, “Do you trust this Computer” asks whether it is time to regulate the use of AI, as well as whether giant MNC’s like FB, Google and Amazon ought to be controlled, when it comes to the use of data
Is this film alarmist. Yes, but rightly so. As we feed more and more about ourselves into a gigantic system, we honestly don’t know how the system is reacting to us. What it is learning about us. Whether it is capable of self learning? How it evaluates (or judges) us after seeing who we really are. With technological determinists like Mark Zuckenberg ruling the roost, it is good to see a quantum of reflection when it comes to looking at what technology will learn from us; what it will learn about us; and what it will do with the learning.