Exclusive Interview: If we’re smart about computers, fear not AI

November 8, 2018 4:01 pm

Justine Cassell is Associate Dean for Technology Strategy and Impact in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Director of the Simon Initiative.

She is Director Emerita of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, also in the School of Computer Science at CMU.

Image/sample of Prof Justine’s work

In an interview with Mediaquest, parent company of AMEinfo, Justine spoke about the relationship between humans and computers, how to better understand it, and its impact on society and intelligence.

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Read the engaging conversation that tackles everyday questions we have about our cyber future.

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 1) What kind of cultural impact do you see in today’s human-computer interaction?

There is increasing recognition that computers and humans are deeply interdependent – each one affects the other – so there are no computers without humans (and, more and more, no humans without computers). For this reason, computers cannot be designed in exactly the same way in each culture, because people are not the same in each culture, and their use of computers is not the same.

A simple example is the intelligent tutoring system that helps children learn their lessons from a computer at home or at school. Many of these systems, designed in the US, assume that children study independently, but in many countries, children learn in groups, and the tutoring systems no longer work in contexts like these. On the flip side, many have worried that computers will have a negative impact on culture and that globalization will erase the differences between cultures, but, happily, that has not turned out to be the case.

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2) How do you see a woman’s role in the latest interactive technologies? More empowerment?

There are still fewer women than men in the field of computer science, and those women who are technologists have overcome many obstacles to be there – discrimination, negative comments from colleagues, and old-fashioned ways of thinking that say that women are no good at science and engineering. This means that the women who stay in the field are persistent and resilient – which makes them excellent innovators!

3) What would you say to the nervous humans about the rise of killer robots?

Those who are scared about killer robots need only stand in a puddle, and the robot will electrocute itself! Or they can just wait 45 minutes, and the robot will run out of batteries! No, actually, seriously, we must be careful of contexts in which robots remove from humans the need to feel responsibility for their actions, to feel empathy for other humans, and to be in control of their decisions.

Killer robots are dangerous because they kill. Just as dangerous, however, is their potential impact on human nature, to allow us to escape the consequences of our actions. But fundamentally it is our decision whether technologists build killer robots or systems that teach empathy for others who are not like us: market forces drive the development of computers, as they do the development of many other kinds of technology.

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4) Is robotic art (artworks made by robots) a farfetched reality?

Robots can take 1000 of instances of art, and learn from them what are their commonalities. What they create, then, will look like other pieces of art. Is similarity a characteristic of art, however? I don’t think so. I think *good art* is dissimilar from anything we have ever seen, and yet still moves us. And that is difficult for a robot to create.

5) What kind of effects are foreseen on the IQs of human in the wake of the wide adoption of artificial intelligence?

When I was young, my parents worried about the effects of calculators on intelligence. Today parents – and others – worry about the impact of AI on intelligence. But AI, like old-fashioned calculators – remind us of facts – what the answer is to the square root of 27, for example. But facts do not make us intelligent. It is the ability to learn what makes us intelligent, and the availability of AI will not remove that real intelligence.

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AMEinfo Staff
By AMEinfo Staff
AMEinfo staff members report business news and views from across the Middle East and North Africa region, and analyse global events impacting the region today.