Digital Transformation: Steve Wilson on “The Limits of Artificial Intelligence”


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Steve Wilson: “Look, there was another point I wanted to make about the limits of AI. One of the most commercially realistic technologies these days is conversation technology, the chatbots. The idea of helping people through the complexity of their interactions, their business interactions through chat is a powerful idea. Some recent experience with chatbots that have gone feral, chatbots that have gone wild, and adopted racist guises. Calling a bot racist is a problematic idea, but let’s just call it what it is. The Microsoft Tay bot [was] released into Twitter to learn the mores and foibles of human language and to adopt those lessons of conversation and then start automating conversation. [It] proved to be a disaster within hours. The salutary lesson of the Tay experience was: Think about a toddler. The salutary lesson of the Tay experience was that this artificial intelligence was fundamentally not human-like. It’s so far short of human that we need to understand this. If a toddler learned some foul language in the playground and brought that home, and she started speaking inappropriately, then you take the toddler, you sit her down and you explain to her. You have an attitude adjustment, is the euphemism that we need. We’re reprogramming the toddler. What they did with Tay was they turned her off. They switch her off, it was like the digital death penalty for becoming unacceptable. The really deep problem here is that there is no teachable moment for an artificial intelligence. You cannot take the artificial intelligence and sit it down and explain where it went wrong. We are so far short of having a teachable moment for artificial intelligence, we’re so far short of having self-awareness, that we need to be really careful with the sort of implicit assumption that self-driving cars will make ethical decisions. Or that conversational robots will have human-like properties. We don’t even know how self-awareness works in ourselves, let alone how we’re going to program it.”

Steve Wilson is a Digital Identity Innovator & Analyst at Constellation Research.

“Digital Transformation: Visions of Nations, Companies, and People” is a film by Manuel Stagars.

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