Video interview with Chris Boos, CEO and founder of Arago.
At a recent conference you said that more human intelligence is needed to promote artificial intelligence. What do you mean by that?
Chris Boos: At the end of the day, artificial intelligence is able to come up with new solutions, but it does so based on given experiences, and it is people who make these experiences so that something creative and innovative can be achieved. Without this wealth of experience, nothing new can come into being. In other words, nothing happens without human experience and human intelligence.
Do you believe that the current hype about AI is exaggerated?
Chris Boos: Well, yes and no. I do think that the fear of how AI will shape the future, with robots that want to kill all of us – and other such nonsense – is indeed exaggerated. There is no evidence that suggests this will happen, and this fear just diverts our attention away from the issues we should really be talking about. For example, we need to discuss the many changes in our economy that will arise when we let more and more machines do the work for which they were originally intended. That will lead to a very major change in our lives that we should be addressing now.
In preparing for this interview, I learned that you look to the future with a relatively optimistic attitude. Why is that?
Chris Boos: I just think that all of this hysteria, worry and fear doesn’t make any real sense. First of all, why would machines want to kill people? What would be the purpose behind that? That’s simply not logical. Another misconception is that machines will take over all of our jobs. Even if machines were to do all of the things humans do today, there would still be jobs for people. Just look at our world – there are plenty of things that need to be done. You can be sure that work will not simply disappear altogether.
Just look at things today in relation to our past: The invention of the steam engine was not a bad thing for humankind, but it did force us to transition from an old economy to a new economy, and that is what people found so difficult to handle. Today is no different – we are again facing a period of transition. We’ve been through this before, and I’m optimistic about the outcome because we already have two economies at work: the new economy platform model from the “valley” and our existing economic system. We are now experiencing the clash between the two, and we are working our way through it. I think that AI will be of great benefit to our existing economic model, and I’m very optimistic because I believe that AI gives our society and Europe an opportunity to catch up and meet new challenges with great success.
Do you think that legally mandated ethical structures or rules are necessary to guide us into the future – possibly legally mandated?
Chris Boos: I think it would be much better if people could agree on a uniform set of values to be followed, and it would be great if we focused more attention on ethics in our discourse. It’s really unbelievable to see how much energy we spend on discussing the morals of machines that do nothing other than imitate the tasks that people have formerly carried out in the past. If we have a machine that acts as a racist today, we need to remember that the machine got this behavior by copying someone’s conduct. This discussion should be conducted from person to person. That would be more relevant and helpful.
Looking toward the future, what will a normal day be like in the year 2050?
Chris Boos: I’ve been working on AI for more than 20 years now, and as a young boy I also remember people talking about a future that would include flying automobiles. And it does seem that this may very well come true. But I think it’s pretty difficult to predict what life will be like in 2050. I mean, just look at the past 20 years. Who could have forecast all those events?
However, I do believe that we will get out of our “super-high-speed” mentality because it makes us take on a lot of different jobs, yet we don’t do any of them really well. It’s all too stressful. I think we will have more time in the future to think clearly and come up with innovations and inventions that make sense. We will focus our attention on important things that really matter to us. And I think that we will also find more time for ourselves and for important matters – because time is the only resource of which humans never have enough.
What approach would you propose for Europe so that it will stay competitive in the race for AI?
Chris Boos: I could say that it would be wonderful if political groups and governments would keep their hands off technology. But I think it is high time for policy makers and technocrats to start a serious dialog in our society. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t have this quick and easy solution, and if we demand that every individual should have gigabit-range Internet connectivity, will all be well with the world?
I always mention that when people start talking about broadband – I think it’s great to have high-speed Internet available everywhere – I’m all for it – but in the “valley” my Internet connection is far from robust and stable. This service disruption certainly cannot be related to bandwidth.
I think there are three important things with which we can distinguish ourselves and actually accomplish something. First: We must decide what to do with industries that will eventually no longer exist. Remember that the automobile replaced horses on our streets within a period of just 10 years. What should we do with such industries? And we should be sure to be proactive so that nobody is left behind. People who do jobs today that may not be needed in the future still possess valuable experience, and we as a society are responsible for making sure that these people and their valuable expertise and skills are not lost.
Second: We must focus attention on education at all levels – social, political and cultural (and here I mean throughout Europe). I think it's not only important that we learn programming, we should learn philosophy. But we do need to have wide-ranging educational opportunities and respect for all people if we expect them to better themselves and act creatively.
It’s important to know something about programming, but philosophy is just as important, in my opinion. The scope of education must be very broad.
Third: It would be great if we as Europeans would learn to regulate things when a problem arises. We should not think up a problem and then try to institute regulations which can often have other unexpected consequences. We seem to be good at that – it’s like building walls for things that do not exist.