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February 24, 2016updated 25 Apr 2016 1:31pm

How Mark Zuckerberg’s AI butler could challenge humanity

By Alessandro Tome

Alessandro Tomé says AI for AI’s sake, or for the sake of Zuck’s ego massage, is not what we want.  

So Mr Zuckerberg has decided that the best way to convince us that artificial intelligence is not only safe but also the inescapable solution to our growing uselessness is to DIY it at home and test it on the family. Sounds reasonable to me.

If one were a little Machiavellian, one might even think that he sees it as a win-win. If he succeeds and safely manages to get home-made AI machines to change nappies and cook dinner without losing one or more family members, he stands to make more than the $45 billion he has just been inspired by his baby daughter to give away, even if with certain quirks. If he does lose his daughter to an unfortunate AI-related nappy-wrapping incident, would the ‘inspiration’ go away and might he take back the $45 billion?

Sarcasm aside, Franken-berg’s self-built technical monsters are part of our present and certainly our future, because too many of us seem to be comfortable enough with the idea. Too many of us rejoice at having to do less and less of what we look upon as chores, oblivious to the fact that we are finding more and more things to be chores. We may rebel at the extreme view of our becoming only a brain floating in gel, with no real other physical presence as it wilts and decays over generations from neglect and lack of use, but even then only just.

What a contradiction AI could be. We fight to stay physically fit, spend billions on exercise kits and new gym memberships, while at the same time pining for the robots that can do it all for us instead. Mow the lawn, vacuum the house, wash up, go buy food, get it back home, let alone ‘run’ an errand! Soon we won’t even have to ‘drive’ the misnamed school ‘run’. We even want AI to think for us and ultimately feel like us, if not feel for us. But isn’t it more likely that it will end being ‘instead’ rather than ‘with’ or ‘for’ us?

If we have nothing left physically
to do, because it is all done better, faster, more accurately and so on, what will we physically do or become, I wonder? I suspect a mixture of grossly overweight, diseased humans on the one side and grossly over-fit and muscly protein bags with a whole different set of diseases on the other. But either way, not so brilliant an outcome, I would venture.

Do not misunderstand me here, for I am not really fearful per se of the machines exterminating us, Terminator-style — even though that is statistically a possible ultimate outcome, and there will be accidental casualties along the way. It is more the embedded, surrepetitious self-destructive element of it I am concerned with.

We are already facing the issues of human over-self-servedness — at both extremes of poverty and malnutrition on the one hand and excesses and entitlement on the other. These can only be exacerbated by an unchecked growth and success of AI and its potential applications. The chasms already appearing in the fabrics of human societies across the globe will only be driven wider and darkly deeper by ever-conquering technology as a poor or, rather, a destructive alternative to physical human interaction.

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The tipping point between the incredible benefits and the undermining erosion that all our wonderful digital technology brings to the global human balance is a fine and difficult one to identify clearly. Our collective ability to trust ourselves to sense it before we even see it will determine the outcome. And it is incredibly salutary to see the seedlings of a desire for (re)balance starting to appear.

Reality show

Science is starting to be able to demonstrate what we all already felt. Research shows that youngsters (aka yufs) who make real friends and cultivate friendships in the physical world stay healthier in later life; and that still applies to older bags like me. And I have noticed that parents are having to battle less to keep yufs off Facebook. Said yufs actually want to meet for real and do stuff together, rather than just pixel it. Even the Twins actually called a friend to make a plan the other day, rather than just sit and mope with Battlefront.

Angel Wife texts less and calls more now, but that may be for the same
reason she now finds me incredibly sexy and lithe since she hit her head because one of the innumerable idiots allowed out when they should really be forcibly interned rammed into her while skiing.

Digital books haven’t really taken off either, yet. Too many of us still want to see and feel the paper in our hands and that sense of immersion into a plot, a story, a world, or just the author’s heart and soul, that only comes with the physical act of holding that book in your hands.

I have splashed out on Paper White something or other, but only because Angel Wife moaned about the weight and the room taken up by my book-choice dithering. And I use it. And I loathe it. I read the text but I don’t feel it, live it, enjoy it. It is mechanical reading, while reading a book is anything but mechanical. It is all soul. And the Twins feel the same. And that makes me feel really good too.

Even just the fact that this magazine is finally available to buy at a newsagent is salutary, rather than having to hope you made the mailing list or having to find it in the BA first-class lounge, or even worse, having to read the online version (except more people may mistakenly read my drivel). What a bore it was too! Rifling through a mag in bed has to be right up there on the list of favourites — until Angel Wife interrupts, unless of course it is a worthy interruption, say, to point out the latest football score while naked.

Mr Zuckerberg is very welcome to self-experiment with AI and I am happy it is on his family rather than mine. I am delighted Mr Google will hope someone doesn’t hack his self-driving car and fly off a cliff, or that Mr Amazon’s delivery drones will remain well away from my home until they have stopped crashing on the heads of unsuspecting skiers or customers rather than embedding themselves into other flying machines. AI for the sake of AI, or for the sake of Zuck’s and others’ ego massage, is not what we want. Continue to buy retinues of ego-masseurs to surround yourselves with instead, I say.

While I am certain that we will embrace some aspects of AI, as we already do, I am just as certain that we will shun the parts of it that would slowly bring about the decay of the physical and spiritual make-up of the human race. Personally I think it is cruel to keep a goldfish in a bowl, let alone, one day, my or your brain.

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