The Perplexing Future of Artificial Intelligence

By Harmony Crawford, Head of Integrated Marketing

Artificial intelligence is about enhancing, not replacing.

Last week, I attended an event with a panel of speakers exploring how artificial intelligence is integrating with our daily lives. From advertising, to art, to companionship, AI is taking the place of humans. And, perhaps like most of the rest of us watching, for the speakers on the panel, this reality ranged from enthusiasm to apprehension.

In the simplest terms, artificial intelligence is machines collecting available data and making a decision based off the analysis of that data. For advertisers, this means things like programmatic media buys and Facebook algorithms that find target audiences. Consumers have been trained to now expect marketing that is relevant (“Oh yes, those ARE the shoes I want.”), and personalized for them (“Stop showing me an ad for the shoes I already bought!”). And yet, we’re also still a little creeped out when it’s right (“Facebook must be listening to my conversations!”). While there’s no doubt it’s easier, and surely unavoidable to get the specificity and scalability that artificial intelligence in advertising offers, I wonder what’s lost in the human-to-human connection of finding audiences the old way?

One of last week’s panelists was an artist who creates original watercolor and mixed media paintings. She scanned and loaded all of the art she’d ever created (something like 820 pieces!?) as well as works from several of the greats such as Renoir, da Vinci, Wyath, Van Gogh as additional data. She asked the program to create original art in her style; it wasn’t perfect, but after a few iterations it was evident that the AI was getting some of it right — the balance of colors, light and dark, movement, and the suggestion of individual figures within the lines of the canvas. Artificial intelligence, creating original, unique art. She found herself asking, what happens to the role of the artist if AI takes their place? Will they be sidelined in a future of Robot Renoirs? Perhaps they’ll find solace in a robot dog.

Meet Aibo, (pronounced “eye-bo”). Aibo is an “autonomous companion” made by Sony hitting the market just in time for Christmas. A reboot of Sony’s robot dog from 1999, this new litter has the benefit of 20 years’ worth of improved artificial intelligence and robot technology. While there’s no doubt Aibo can’t replace a real dog — it won’t jump on your lap, go for long walks, or lick your hand — it also won’t chew up your shoes, dig up your yard, or tear up the garbage. At just under $3,000, it’s even less expensive than a real dog (which the AKC estimates at $23,000 over the lifespan).

The companionship of a Yorkshire terrier replaced by a robot. What happens to us when we shift our feelings of responsibility, care, and connection — training, walking, cleaning up after, and snuggling — to a robot? What diminishment of our sense of compassion and empathy when we can simply press a button to shut down Aibo’s needs?

Artificial intelligence is transforming our lives, but at the core of it is still a human creating the program and the intention. This blending of science and humanity, technology and empathy, machines and emotions; it’s a complex, complicated future we are wandering into. From Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics to Satya Nadella’s 10 Laws of AI, we recognize the imperative humans first. Artificial intelligence is an enhancement, not a replacement.

Rational Ideas is the thought leadership hub for Rational, a digital agency and consultancy based in Seattle, WA.