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Event highlights: Humanity in an age of machines with Simon Corah

AI technology

COVID has brought to light the importance of human traits, like compassion and tolerance, during times of crisis. But what role will our humanity play with the rapid growth of AI technology? Could it even be replicated by machines?

We were excited to welcome back leading futurist, Simon Corah, CEO of Growth Mantra, to lead a thought-provoking and highly topical discussion about the explosion of AI technology, its implications for the future, and the importance of our irreplaceable humanity as we move further into the Age of Machines.

Below are some of the key themes we covered during this session:-

Overview

There are now over 60billion connected devices globally and, according to Forbes, 90% of leadings businesses already have ongoing investment in AI technology.

Computers have traditionally been trained to solve problems faster and more efficiently than humans (usually based on maths and binary data). However, with the new era being all about soft skills, there is a desire now to build humanity into machines. For instance, as Simon Corah showed us, a humanoid robot nurse in Korea working as a front-line worker during COVID, designed to mimic real human emotion.

However alarming this may be, Simon reassures us that creating human traits in machines is no easy task, with emotions such as compassion, consideration and sympathy all being very hard to fully replicate. There will always be the need for those qualities unique to humans to interpret facts, build relationships and provide guidance.

Ethical questions around the rise of AI

As AI becomes more dominant in society, there are some fundamental ethical questions being raised:

  • Bias: Is AI fair?
  • Liability: Who is responsible for AI?
  • Security: How do we protect access to AI technology?
  • Employment: Is AI technology getting rid of jobs?
  • Human interaction: Will we stop talking to one another?
  • Wealth inequality: Who benefits from AI?
  • Power and control: Who decides how to deploy AI technology?

A number of these questions come back to the developers designing AI in the first place and their unique views of the world and preferences. A big issue is that inherent biases of individual programmers may easily be reflected within the AI technology they are creating.

It’s vital that they understand the wider social context and the implications for the design decisions them make. Valerie Bock from VCB Consulting states, ‘I don’t think we’ve developed the philosophical sophistication in humans who design AI sufficiently to expect them to be able to build ethical sophistication into their software.”

In order to address this issue, in 2018 leading tech companies prepared the Toronto Declaration, a landmark statement led by Amnesty International and Access Now. It urges governments and companies to urgently protect human rights in an age of artificial intelligence with a focus on the right to equality and non-discrimination.

The impact of AI on work and the jobs market

There is a widespread assumption that AI technology will eliminate more jobs than it will create. Simon says that, whilst this is true in the short-term, in the long-term it will lead to things we can’t yet imagine.

A particular concern for finance professionals is that their roles will become obsolete in the face of AI technology. However, as Simon states, “The fundamental human capability you have as an accountant and advisor that sets you apart from machines, is the ability to look at a situation and creatively solve a problem. AI, in a nano-second, can give you all the information you need to know about someone and their situation. However, someone still needs to build human relationships, interpret this data and explain to people what they need to do with it. There’s always a role for people”.

Forbes, in a report from March, states that jobs that request machine-learning or AI skills are expected to increase by 71% in the next 5 years.

This will include a rise of brand new roles, for example Automation Ethicists, the people responsible for ensuring ethics are instilled within AI-driven products. These jobs are already starting to appear (mainly in the US). Courses are also starting to become available for those wanting to get on the front-foot in gaining some of these new skills.

Audience Q&A session

We received a wide range of questions from our audience during the event. Below is a selection of the questions raised and answers from Simon Corah.

Q: How do you see the transition working, particularly in the blue-collar sector with jobs being taken over by robots, e.g. decrease in truck drivers as self-drive trucks become more prevalent?
A: We are going to experience some upheaval and civil unrest as certain jobs are impacted and made obsolete by machines. However, in the longer-term, there will be new opportunities opening up; possibly manual workers will now become the people managing the machines.
Q: Government /corporates will use AI to mitigate risk. When does it become counter-intuitive as taking risks [connected with AI] is instrumental to our development?
A: You’re right. A lot of AI is about risk mitigation and avoidance but it’s creating its own risks at the same time. You’re never certain of the consequences until you have tried it. I think we’re on a journey and we’re learning.
Q: How do you see the AI military arms race between the US and China ethically?
A: I think this is going to be the most significant issue going forward, which is why we’re going to need another Geneva Convention. The role of robotics and machines in warfare, we are going to learn over the next 20 years, is very dangerous and hard to control. We’re going to have to start that process now and I’m sure people are worrying about it.
Q: The risk of Silicone Valley sensations, like Elizabeth Holmes with Theranos, popping up with unproven inventions. How might this situation play out with emerging AI technologies?
A: It’s an issue because we just don’t know at this stage. People are inventing all these things and programming stuff. They think it’s going to do the right job but the consequence of that is that you might be solving one problem but creating another. I often say that this is the ‘Cane Toad Era’ of AI. We are [metaphorically] chucking cane toads into Australia to try and alleviate a problem but it may be creating bigger problems in the long-term. We are on a journey.

 

At Moir Group, our core belief is that a satisfying job leads to a fulfilling life. Our series of expert-led events throughout the year, are all designed to help you to navigate the jobs market in these challenging times. Find out more on our Learning and Events hub.

If you have any accounting or finance recruitment needs in your team, or you’re looking for a role yourself, we would be delighted to assist. We cover all roles, permanent and temporary, from Assistant Accountant to CFO.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch on (02) 9262 4836 or send us a message here.

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