Verena Fulde


Would you trust an algorithm?

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How does artificial intelligence (AI) tick, and how do algorithms make decisions? Read about it in this fist part of my blog. Second part will deal with the question of how AI can become trustworthy.


Why do concepts such as superintelligence and smart algorithms make so many people uneasy? Why don't people just find them very "cool"? Analytical machines with unbelievably fast cognitive performance are emerging, machines that patiently analyze huge quantities of data and find patterns that previously would have remained hidden. Patterns that hold clues to the ways diseases develop, for example. Such machines can thus help us prevent and heal disease.

Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at the University of Oxford, goes beyond "cool" in his appraisal. He goes to the extreme of saying that "Machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make." In other words, it would be THE key to solving all of humanity's problems.

So why is everybody so concerned?

The "artificial" in artificial intelligence is one reason, I think, because it invites a direct comparison with human intelligence.  All the anxiety thus revolves around the issue of how "human" machines could become, including the issue of whether they could supplant homo sapiens in that species' status as the "crown of creation."

Even experts disagree on the question of algorithms' potential "humanity." For some, machines are simply unfeeling calculators, while others identify a potential for human-like feelings and even creativity.

Computers painting images and making music

And indeed we're already seeing computers that paint and algorithms that compose music. Here you can hear a sample of such "computer music". That song was composed by "Iamus," cyber-brainchild of the Study Group in Biomimetics at the University of Malaga. "Flowmachines" from Sony Computer Science Laboratories is another algorithm that composes music. After being fed Beatles songs, it composed the song "Daddy's Car".

Google's "Deep Dream" project has turned computers into dreamers and painters. After being "shown" a set of pictures, it was "told" to produce some on its own. As it happens, its creations are fascinating, and they have the power to touch, in some strange way. Here you can try "Deep Dream".

It thus seems that the ability to be creative is no longer limited solely to us humans or to natural beings in a wider sense (after all animals have also been found to be capable of solving problems creatively).

But it is difficult to say whether it is a good or bad for computers to be creative – and, thus, to be somehow human. Perhaps a comparison involving human beings can help. When do we trust a person? When we are familiar with his/her views and values, and we've found him/her to be reliable. In other words, when we feel we can be sure about his/her intentions.
At what point could we apply these criteria to human-machine relationships?

Read more about this in the second part of my blog …

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