Lessons from Terminator: Who do we trust to set the AI standards?

There is no science fiction today, only a temporal gap between it becoming reality

By Mark Woolfenden | 26 November 2018

Mention the words artificial intelligence or machine learning and what uncontrollably springs to mind is the fictional endoskeletal, red-eyed Terminator of the same film franchise, followed closely by its fictional creator, SkyNet, the neural communication network that became self-aware.

Not your typical response to new technologies, both of which are immeasurably capable and will, beyond debate, forever change the world we believe we live in. 

What is reality?  This question is centre stage in artificial intelligence research, as the guardians of our race contemplate both the risks and opportunities of creating consciousness at the high end of artificial intelligence projects that strive to create machines in our own image. 

Herein lies the debate about whether we are trying to create a carbon copy of ourselves - for carbon, read digital - to emulate both physical and mental attributes, or whether we are simply experimenting in all areas, to prove our intellectual prowess in addition to our physical alpha domination of the planet.  But to whom are we trying to prove that? 

Even the fictional SkyNet’s logical plan for controlled temporal event management could not predict all of the retaliatory reactions of its targets due the vagaries, adaptability and flaws of human behaviour, so why do we believe chasing robotic mimicry is destined for anything other than failure? 

Rules used to build learning systems are currently bound by the limits of human thought, but the real task for artificial intelligence and machine learning is to innovate processes and evolve those into efficiencies well beyond our current belief systems, and not just to assimilate patterns that we acknowledge at this moment but cannot see, although this is where the smart money is now invested. 

Major advances will be made to augment our thought processes and challenge our paradigms, but at the same time accelerate progress and reduce time to our next destination, although it may not be clear what or where that final destination lies for us.  In a traditional and rational human response, let’s strive for the best of both worlds, where we hive off all the boring bits to robots but keep the interesting opportunities for expression, leveraging unbound human creativity and fulfilling its evolutionary capabilities.  Come with me if you want to live, says Terminator.

Identity is the essential currency of our digital world and virtual online existence.  None of the template avatars on my iPhone bear any likeness whatsoever to my facial appearance - at least I hope not - yet it has been mapped by a neural processor that knows exactly where my every dimple, blemish and hair is, permed from any one of 30,000 positions.

The digital validation of identity has had to be refashioned around those parameters that are accessible and can be stored for instant recall. Digital records themselves, are not good enough for everyday confirmation of identity, which is where real time biometric based data enrichment can provide extra layers of confidence needed, leading to an outcome of positive trust that then opens the vault. 

As a result of now intense capital investment into artificial intelligence and machine learning, the concept of individual reality is getting a makeover too; we all operate in our own reality space, so why do we persistently seek consensus on a unified reality? 

Beyond Apple devotees, the reported reality distortion field, exemplified by Steve Jobs, is uncomfortably received; how would we dare challenge our own personal version of reality? Our perceptions of reality are fed more by news and media than ever before, but make no mistake, information manipulation and its control are hardwired into our DNA. 

We know that history is written by the victorious, but in whom have we placed our trust for the correct version of truth in the past and to whom should we look to trust in the future? Trust is always hard won but can easily be destroyed.

There are a number of initiatives in play that attempt to provide leadership and guidance on achieving the critical governance of artificial intelligence, from learned institutions to business sector based advisory groups.

What references are being used to provide the standards for artificial intelligence and machine learning? Who defines best practice and how can industry possibly collaborate to adopt the most successful processes, when the generation and protection of intellectual property, with significant commercial value attached, will outgun any industry interest, every time?

 Any governance advice will, by default, be offered on a best endeavour’s basis, as even the wildest visionaries may be surprised by the speed of adoption and endemic use of these new technologies, but predicting the unpredictable could be insignificant down the line, so we can expect to frequently revise our view of the future. Or, as Terminator might say, hasta la vista, baby.

It is not just the visionaries, the coders and the money men who will have to up their game in this new world of artificial intelligence, heralding the end of the human era, but also the second oldest profession in the world, the legal profession. 

The lawyers, having already enlarged their practice scope from the physical world to the digital one, will be driven to stretch their intellectual boundaries and, no doubt, their billings, to the new virtual world of multiple, non-physical reference points, widespread anonymity and the tautology of borderless jurisdictions. The meaningful establishment of entity, identity, ownership and accountability in order to provide any legal proof of liability, will be their single biggest challenge in what may genuinely become an alternative universe.  The only guarantee in this future world will be a throwback to their past - they will be back.

Investment into artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions is strategically non-negotiable as email and internet connectivity was two and a half decades ago.  Whether as an innovator or service user, firms must invest in these technologies to remain competitive, otherwise – and the last Terminator quote, I promise - you are terminated.

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