Change the conversation about Chatbots

Chatbots are the future of apps. Tech giants have been putting a lot of resources towards this new way of communicating with the web. They are using 3rd party bots as a way to become users portal to the entire internet. In the case of Facebook, they are creating an environment where a user can forgo searching for something on Google and just ask a bot to directly answer their question. Thousands of bots are being developed right now, but those will eventually be aggregated into a few main bots.

Facebook is developing M, the ultimate virtual assistant. The data collected by the other Facebook chatbots will likely feed into M’s database, allowing Facebook to develop the ultimate virtual assistant. They state in their policy that they are able to “analyze your app, website, content, and data for any purpose, including commercial. It will become the go-to destination for mobile discovery. David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook, says he “hopes to make up for that by creating a virtual assistant so powerful, it’s the first stop for anyone looking to do or buy anything.” Facebook is only one of the players in this field. Apple is developing Siri, Google is developing Google Now. Slack recently invested 80 million dollars into bot development.

AI powered personal assistants will become the foundation of many future technologies. Uber might seem like just a ride service, but we can speculate that they are not oblivious to the fact that they are collecting valuable location based social data about it’s users. They know who their users are because they make you sign up through Facebook. Uber always know your location, partially because you order Ubers but also because in order for the app to work you have your location data turned on. They may claim to only use your data for “business purposes,” such as being able to tell their drivers what places are more likely to be busy on a Saturday night. But in the future there is a lot of potential for how they use this data to expand their company. Imagine getting into an Uber and being able to say “Take me to the next bar” and it would know based on a wealth of data exactly where you would want to go.

Or perhaps you get into a Google driverless car and it brings you on all your errands, and because it has access to your calendar, email and Google maps you don’t even have to tell it where to go. Or maybe you come home at night to go onto your Oculus VR headset, and M has prepared a list of videos to watch, all of which are relevant and interesting to you. You could be walking down the street wearing Google Glass, and Google would know that since it’s around 3 pm you probably need a coffee, and it could direct you to a spot it knows you would like and isn’t too far away so you could make it to your destination on time. While this sounds like a convenient future, there could also be negative implications of this level of AI becoming mainstream.

When we think of how Artificial Intelligence will affect our future, we typically think of scenes from science fiction films of robots ending humanity. The threat of AI in the near future will be a lot more subtle. The bar the Uber drives you to may have paid to be recommended by M, and it may be more expensive or further away than your local laundromat. While trying to hold your attention the VR videos you’re watching might exclude certain topics, causing you to know more about the Kardashians than about politics. Google Glass will let Google know everywhere you are, at all times, causing you to lose your sense of privacy. Convenience may come at the cost of freedom.

While working on developing an AI based search engine, I became very interested in what a data driven future could look like. After seeing how AI products are developed from a business point of view, I feel strongly we must raise awareness about the possible negative implications. An ethical protocol is being developed for the applications of emerging AI technology. We see industry leaders such as Elon Musk and Sam Altman calling for regulations. The general public are being left out of that conversation because of lack of accessible information. We need to change how we talk about artificial intelligence by making the potential issues more approachable for a broader audience. I believe if we change how we talk about AI, it will change the conversation.

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