What Is Human about Artificial Intelligence?

Lessons from Humanity.ai

Kathy Baxter
Apr 26, 2017 · 7 min read

At Salesforce, we are delving into the ways AI might shape the experience of our users (e.g., How to meet user expectations for Artificial Intelligence). With that in mind, several members of our UX team were keen to attend Humanity.ai (videos) in February. “Humanity.AI is a single-track conference chock full of talks with designers, animators, engineers, researchers, and product folks who are keeping humanity at the forefront of AI advancements.”

Below are the key insights Kathy Baxter, Jennie Doberne, George Hu, Amy Lee, and Ayesha Mazumdar took from the event. From these insights, we make five recommendations for our teams and anyone working on AI.

The Algorithmic Justice League (Photo credit: Joy Buolamwini)

Insight 1: Focusing on an apocalyptic AI future distracts from the real risks of AI in the present

For example, facial recognition technology trained on photo sets lacking African Americans, is not able to accurately detect African Americans. AI learns over time through complex algorithms. Yet when unconscious bias exists in the original algorithm, it becomes increasingly magnified and persists with quiet malevolence. Will biased bots then “train” humans — reproducing stereotypes as technological truths we no longer question? We must develop AI guardians to protect the humans we are trying to help. We can do this by designing bots that render visible inequalities, security flaws, and abuse.

“Good advice for AIs = Good advice for people: Do what the best and smartest of us would have you do.”

Chris Noessel, Global Design Practice Lead, Travel & Transportation at IBM

Recommendation: Build AI guardians, not just AI features and tools.

Dr. Vivienne Ming, Theoretical Neuroscientist, Technologist & Entrepreneur (Photo credit: @Humanity_ai)

Insight 2: Human creativity and adaptation are key to job security in an automated world

“The future of work in an AI-infused world is simple. We need creative, adaptive, problem-solvers.”

— Dr. Vivienne Ming, Theoretical Neuroscientist, Technologist & Entrepreneur

Recommendation: Nurture the creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving skills of your children, and your employees, coworkers and users.

Mark Walsh, CEO at Motional

Insight 3: Bots can improve human collaboration

Veronica Belmont and Jeremy Vandehey of Growbot focused on how their offering gamifies meaningful feedback to grow and enrich relationships at work. A successful company is one that encourages open feedback between colleagues, while defining and modeling what appropriate feedback looks like. Growbot’s position is that constructive criticism (or feedback of a more negative variety) should be delivered in person so its product is limited to positive feedback. While bot-ified feedback may enter the workplace, human judgment and emotional intelligence will still have a place in the future of work.

“Humanity doesn’t have anything to do with the bot; it’s the community. It brings out the humanity in the community.”

— Veronica Belmont, Product Manager at Growbot

Recommendation: Leverage employee and personal chatbots to enable collaboration and growth.

Joshua Browder, Founder & CEO at DoNotPay highlighting examples of how AI can help the most vulnerable. (Photo credit: Mindy Gold)

Insight 4: AI is good for the social good

Right now, most bots are used for entertainment and sales. As Browder demonstrates, however, we have the capacity to do so much more with AI beyond our tendency to focus on improving tasks (e.g., increase click through rate, decrease time to resolve customer service issues). This is what should get all of us in AI up from bed in the morning.

“Chatbots can prosper if they help humanity. To do that they have to do a lot more than order pizza.”

— Joshua Browder, Founder & CEO at DoNotPay

Recommendation: Think beyond fun or tactical applications of AI to ones that benefit the greater social good.

Elena Ontiveros, Content Strategist at Facebook, shared recommendations for creating a useful and engaging chatbots like having multiple responses for each user intent to avoid sounding like a robot.

Insight 5: Creating a good bot takes a lot of effort (and needs user research to validate)

Elena Ontiveros, Content Strategist on Facebook Messenger, shared insightful recommendations for creating a useful and engaging bot that upholds and protects brand values. In the same vane, Mark Walsh at Motional.ai gave a compelling presentation on the importance of developing the character of a bot. He demonstrated that bots are sociopaths and you have to do a lot of work to fix that.

“Characters make us feel. We identify with them because they reflect back to us who we believe we are or want to be.”-

Mark Walsh, CEO at Motional

Oren Jacob at PullString spoke about developing conversational relationships. Many AI assistants are already living in our homes (e.g., Alexa) and interacting with their human counterparts. What will happen when Alexa joins in a family argument or when our children scream demands at her? How do we protect users from AIs mimicking our bad behavior and perpetuating the biases Camille Eddy warned about?

As technology improves and human acceptance of it relaxes, we can only guess at the future social norms of AI. With all of AI’s unknowns, organizations would be wise to enlist research to explore the exciting benefits, while mitigating the potential abuses of this emerging technology.

Recommendation: The rules of engagement are as important as the functionality. For the best results, leverage user research and design thinking approaches to ground decisions in data, not preference or intuition.

Humanity.ai brought together amazing minds working in the field of AI and each one focused on how we can keep the humanity in artificial intelligence. We haven’t always gotten it right and there will be more missteps to come, but as researchers, designers, and developers it is our responsibility to stay focused on the user and their needs.

If you attended Humanity.ai, we’d love to hear your insights and how or if it has changed how you approach your AI work!

Thank you Jennie Doberne and Raymon Sutedjo-The for all of your feedback!

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