Artificial intelligence is paving the way to our future, bringing with it many benefits such as the ability to complete difficult tasks quickly but also many challenges, in particular, with respect to human values and ethics. In light of this, it is important that we emphasise human values like creativity and empathy in our education system.
On February 19th, 2021, Malaysia launched its Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4) Policy. Supported by the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint, this policy aims to digitize Malaysia’s economy, amenities and infrastructure, with the hopes that the country will become more successful in extending its market and services globally.
A major focus of IR4 is Artificial Intelligence (AI) pioneered by the famous computer scientist John McCarthy (1927-2011). AI is a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerning the development of computers with true intelligence i.e. possessing the ability to operate on their own without human commands encoded within their programming. AI can also refer to the ability of a machine or a computer program to ‘think’ and ‘learn’ as a human would. Some examples of devices or applications using AI include smart assistants (such as Siri and Alexa), self-driving cars, email spam filters and Netflix recommendations.
Some of the advantages of AI include:
Reducing the time needed to perform routine and repetitive tasks;
Allowing 24/7 operation to complete difficult tasks and performing them more efficiently
Augmenting human capacities that may have been compromised (e.g. speech therapy and other handicaps).
All of these advantages make for persuasive arguments in favour of AI as a technological marvel that can grant humans more leisure time, thereby allowing them to pursue social or leisure activities.
On the flipslide, we must also consider the challenges that IR4 (and AI especially) will pose for us in the future. In spite of the fact nearly every major part of our lives such as medicine, transportation, finance and banking, agriculture, communications and even right down to how we shop and behave as consumers have been greatly improved in some way by AI, this great change has also brought many shortcomings:
Prohibitive costs required in the setting of the machinery and its attending infrastructure.
AI lacking creativity and thus the ability to truly “learn”, preventing it from replacing humans in certain fields and professions.
AI will disrupt the human resource market because it will replace humans in traditional jobs and create new job opportunities in the IR4 market. The 2018 Davos Forum (a global platform where leaders from various sectors and fields such as business, governance and academia come together to address critical issues at the start of the year) estimated that 800 million traditional jobs will be lost by 2030.
Human habits will change with the application of AI; in particular, having more leisure time may make humans lazier which in itself can lead to a myriad of psycho-social-economic issues,
AI may also open up new venues for unethical applications and because of the high costs that it entails, it can exacerbate the divide between rich and poor. According to the latest FORBES report, 2,755 of the world’s billionaires today have more wealth than 50% of the world’s population and that the wealth gap is widening for 70% of the population in the world.
This situation is perhaps not unrelated to the observation made by the Australian Futurist Richard Slaughter when he saw that values (morals and ethics) have been the missing dimension in development. The weariness towards AI’s potential to dilute our humanity was also expressed by social forecaster John Naisbitt in his book “High Tech High Touch: Technology and our search for Meaning” (1999). From their observations we can infer that despite the fact that today we are technological giants, we are at the same time moral midgets. This disparity brings to mind Einstein’s famous words “Without religion, science is blind and without science, religion is lame.”
Science philosopher Robert E. McGinn in his book:
“Science, Technology and Society” (1990) warned of the unthinking usage of technology in American society when he wrote that “Softened by the comforts of technology, fascinated by its gadgetry, reliant on its constant companionship, addicted to its steady delivery of entertainment, seduced by its promises, awed by its power and speed (humans today) are intoxicated by technology .Technology feeds our pleasure centres physically and mentally, but its intoxication is squeezing out our human spirit hence intensifying our search for meaning (about who and what we are and the purpose of our existence)”.
Perhaps this warning has become a reality in light of the “digisexuality” phenomenon. In 2019, the New York Times reported on the growing wave of “digisexuals”, more specifically the “second wave” referring to those who are romantically (or sexually) attracted to robots and AI rather than humans. The article wrote about a 35-year-old man who married a virtual idol. Other such “digisexuals” are a Chinese engineer who married the robot wife he built and a French woman who claimed she was engaged to a 3D-printed robot she had designed.
Perhaps this is where we pause our evaluation of AI. Although this technology has benefitted many different people, these benefits will only work if we as humans gain a better understanding of the power and knowledge we possess and answer these questions: Why did we create AI in the first place? Where are we taking it in the foreseeable future? And will it truly benefit everyone?
That last question becomes more pertinent once we realise that when placed into the hands of those with low ethics and compassion, AI can become an instrument of selfish endeavours that benefit a few and disadvantages many. Such an ideology is particularly dominant in today’s world which sees survival of the fittest, individualism and materialism as the main goals of life. Therefore, what we would like to draw attention to is how we can harness the power of AI technology in a manner that does not compromise our morals, ethics and religious beliefs.
Critical questions being discussed often, especially in our postmodern world are “What does it mean to be human? How are humans different from robots? And will robots/AI one day be more superior?” Before we can answer these questions, we first need to define what human intelligence (HI) is. Simply put, HI is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, the capacity for abstraction, logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, reasoning, playing, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, emotional and spiritual intelligence. That last attribute is included because acceptance of the religious experience (though not necessarily religion itself) is a major characteristic of the postmodern world. Indeed, research has shown that spiritual intelligence is critical for human happiness and well-being.
Likewise, other scholars and researchers in the field have also stressed the point that human learning requires many meta-level competencies such as wisdom and intuition to be involved as well as the importance of regulating cognition, attention and emotion in the learning process and what the social and practical motivation of learning is, all things that AI currently lacks. Melanie Mitchell highlighted this in her book “Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans” (2019) in dedication “To my parents who taught me how to be a THINKING HUMAN and so much more”.
Wanting to assuage fears that robots might overcome/control humans one day, the renowned magnate Jack Ma says that “only by changing education can our children compete with machines”. Education in the arts and humanities will teach students invaluable skills such as creative problem solving, collaboration, resourcefulness, respect, leadership, resilience and empathy; vital skills that will help students and future leaders to become well poised in a rapidly changing economy continuously influenced by AI. Jack Ma further reminds us that we should not teach the younger generation to compete with AI and instead teach them the aforementioned skills that current AI is unable to comprehend. Hence, this reiterates the need for proper understanding of the human being and how they will not be overwhelmed by AI.
Within this context it is perhaps understandable that many countries such as China, Korea and Russia have changed their STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) courses to STREAM, with the R standing for religion (a source for learning about values and ethics) and A standing for the Arts and Humanities (another source for further understanding of human nature and morals).
In conclusion, it is clear that AI technology is here to stay, but we need to ensure that our ‘hearts’ and ‘minds’ continue to work in tandem so that principles such as integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion among others, continue to guide us on our path towards civilisational sustainability.
Mitchell, M. (2019). Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. UK: Penguin
Authors and researchers featured:
Datuk Professor Dr. Azizan Baharuddin
Centre for Civilisational Dialogue email@example.com
Mr. Chang Lee Wei
Senior Research Officer, Centre for Civilisational Dialogue
Copyedit: Michael Hoe Guang Jian (firstname.lastname@example.org)