27 May 2021 – by Andrew Dolan

The frenzy of hyperbolic claims about the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on our lives and society in general has abated somewhat.  It would be unfair to hint that we are entering another AI ‘winter’ but it would also be unfair to criticize those who suggest that there has been a slow down of sorts in AI’s inexorable march to the future.

Developments in many technologies goes through peaks and troughs and at the moment, it might be that AI development across a number of areas is more steady and measured than subject to great leaps of progress.

Actually this might not be a bad thing.  As various and novel forms of AI-inspired technology slowly emerges, much of it exceedingly profitable and the product of deep concepts within ‘Narrow AI’, there is, I believe, much to commend the idea of reviewing and understanding the impact such innovations will have on societal and individual development.  

For example, the notion of ‘vaccine passports’, a ‘big data’ product stimulated by clear public health goals has sparked a form of protest over the individual and privacy, a consideration clearly linked to AI and communications technology.  

Another example lies in the field of the militarization of robotics.  Our societies have not been consulted on the development of weapon platforms that evidently minimize, if not abandon human control.  For some, the notion that IA-inspired weaponry can make us – or at least our armed forces – safer, through the research, design, production and deployment of such weapons has to be applauded.  For others, this same equation can imply that there would be less of an impediment on actually using such weapons, with the concept of incurring less collateral damage lurking somewhere in the background.

Then there is the issue of how a society so deeply linked to the ‘internet of things’ and that perhaps is no longer tied to traditional forms of organized labor would actually occupy its time?  Is our society ready for such a leap of ‘progress’ or will it simply be the stimulus for resentment, disorientation or worse?

It is for these reasons and numerous others like it that propels me to think that we have an urgent need, as a society and as individuals, to really get to grips with the future impact of AI and AI-inspired technologies and policies.

To abandon such a crucial aspect of our future to government and the AI stakeholder community is irresponsible.  As more and more states aspire to become AI-empowered and shape future policies and plans around the promises of technology, we need to not only understand these directions but to weigh up and measure the likely impact they might have. For some years now, academic communities have taken up the task of challenging such assumptions, considering alternatives and striving to ensure beneficial AI.  

Hungarian academic institutes can be at the forefront of this process but not only them – the general public needs to get involved.  This should not mean a quick browse through government strategy documents but a determined effort to educate the public on what AI is, where it might be heading, how it influences society – both positively and negatively – but also a platform for more nuanced questions about the individuals future place in a society where ‘free will’ might be becoming a ‘myth’ under the onslaught of ever more powerful forms of behavioral control realized through new forms of global financial hierarchies linked to communication technologies and ‘surveillance capitalism’ as described by writer Shoshana Zuboff.*

This process should begin immediately and start with a review of which public policies are most likely to be impacted by AI.  Even this process of identification is an important start and it should place Hungarians on a more robust trajectory when assessing the shape of their future state, policies and crucially, their life choices.

*  The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.