Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being woven into the fabric of our lives. It is no longer a matter for science fiction movies, and we actually seem to be at ease with incorporating it into our lives. However, is it really compatible with the condition we aspire to? Or, is it pushing us towards a reality where human contact is becoming a luxury?

Image by Deepak Pal (Flickr)

We live in a world with a plethora of choices and a world where AI, whether it be Alexa or autosuggest on your browser, are making those choices easily accessible. The data collected about you will be used to show you options that AI ‘thinks’ would best suit you. Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook feed or looked at the recommendations on your YouTube page and thought ‘why would I watch this’ but inevitably click on it anyway? AI’s algorithms are not always able to keep up with the fluctuations in our likes and dislikes. What AI shows us may not always fit our mould of things but because it gets it right most of the time, we have an implicit trust that they know us well. In turn, AI causes us to react to new things but is it hindering us from a whole other world that we could be reacting to, one that we could be enjoying more?

Alexa can ‘talk’ to many appliances in our homes, sometimes even our refrigerators. We are heading towards a future where the weekly practice of writing shopping lists might become obsolete because our fridge is telling Alexa what we should buy. Of course, this will help many of us who are indecisive; however, not making the decisions ourselves can lead to a slippery slope where AI ends up making life or death decisions.

The crux of the issue here rests on our declining attention spans. If we treat our attention span in the same manner that we treat our health and fitness, we will be able to reclaim some of that individual agency and begin to question whether the options being fed to us by AI are the best ones for us. Reaching this equilibrium, where AI is a supplementary rather than a decisive element in our lives, is integral to overcoming these ‘invisible’ shackles.

Not only is AI contouring our choices, but it is simultaneously entrenching biases that we would rather seek to be rid of. AI has not been configured to compensate for gaps in our data that show evidence of gender or racial bias. Hand dryers that are not as efficient in drying non-white hands or voice recognition software that does not understand regional dialects play into existing divisions.

To overcome these shortfalls, state governments should develop more stringent standards for AI. However, governments have been two steps behind in this respect and it was only in the light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal was there an impetus to monitor how companies use AI. Especially as AI is advancing in areas such as preventative healthcare, how data is collected, used and protected should be at the forefront of decisions in further integrating AI into our lives.

Fears that AI will dominate many professions and intensify job market competition, whilst are not unfounded, do overshadow the professions that cannot be replaced by it, professions which have conventionally been undervalued. The role of social carers and nurses cannot seem to be replicated by AI particularly because human contact and compassion are at the heart of their work. Such age-old professions may reclaim their lost appreciation in a future where AI permeates many levels of society.

A greater consciousness about the influence AI has on us in our everyday life and on societal dynamics will allow us to avoid its shortfalls as well as improve them. However, symbiosis is a tentative state because of the everchanging nature of AI and the lure it has on our own lives.