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Artificial Intelligence Focus of Forum For EconAlliance

Future of technology future — both as a friend and foe of humanity — sparked a spirited discussion

Terence Yeoh, left, talks artificial intelligence during an Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County panel discussion. “The key thing is the unknown unknowns that are out there,” says the co-founder of SeedTECH, a group of aerospace engineers voluntarily developing technology for the greater good. At right are Paul Cook, chief information officer at CoastHills Credit Union, and Ryan Jenkins, a Cal Poly assistant philosophy professor.
Terence Yeoh, left, talks artificial intelligence during an Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County panel discussion. “The key thing is the unknown unknowns that are out there,” says the co-founder of SeedTECH, a group of aerospace engineers voluntarily developing technology for the greater good. At right are Paul Cook, chief information officer at CoastHills Credit Union, and Ryan Jenkins, a Cal Poly assistant philosophy professor. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Artificial intelligence and its future — both as a friend and foe of humanity — sparked a spirited discussion during the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County annual dinner Thursday night.

The panel discussion, led by moderator Steve Burgess of Burgess Forensics, featured a philosophy professor, a credit union official and an aerospace engineer involved in developing technology for the greater good.

While artificial intelligence is part of everyday life in the form of smartphones and other uses, it is the future technology that prompted most of the discussion Thursday.

Recent experiences drove home the fact that human beings have common sense, according to Ryan Jenkins, a Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo assistant philosophy professor and a senior fellow for the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group.

It was a human who noted the danger when a piece of paper landed on a candle during the dinner Thursday, he noted.

“I think human beings have a common sense that computers don’t because a machine would have to recognize a piece of paper over a flame, and I see smoke, and where there’s smoke there’s fire,” Jenkins said. “And I recognize that paper can combust at a temperature that a candle burns and I better do something.

“How long is it going to be before a computer can do that? It will be a very long time, I think, before a computer can do that.”

Terence Yeoh, assistant principal director for The Aerospace Corp., offered another viewpoint.

“The key thing is the unknown unknowns that are out there,” said Yeoh, the co-founder of SeedTECH, which is made up of aerospace engineers developing technology for the greater good on a volunteer basis.

He offered an example of a major earthquake destroying a road, something an autonomous automobile might not detect, sending cars careening off the freeway.

“And some guy in a 1970s Chevy stops the car and saves everybody behind him,” Yeoh said, as the audience applauded. “Until a car figures that out and drives around it.

“These are the things we can’t simulate, we can’t expect,” he said.

Yeoh added that the question is how to program machines so they can successfully handle unknown factors.

Holding up his cellphone, he noted that the devices are proof the machine revolution has arrived already.

“I’m not afraid of AI (artificial intelligence),” Yeoh said. “I’m afraid of the human programming the AI into what they want us to do. Just be aware, the fear is not the machine. It’s the person behind the machine.”

When he was hired two years ago, Paul Cook, chief information officer for CoastHills Credit Union, said he was charged with upgrading hardware for the future.

“So how do you solve that when you don’t know what you don’t know needs to necessarily be done?” Cook asked.

Representatives of the firm hosting the credit union’s data collaborate with CoastHills officials.

“The problem really comes down to how would artificial (intelligence) be able to replace that human interaction of solving the unknown and creating a much better solution than we ever would have on our own,” Cook said.

As for whether artificial intelligence is used to spy on people, that may depend on the definition, since companies collect data.

“It’s not a fear that companies have that they might accidentally collect a lot of data,” Jenkins said, adding that he was referring to firms such as Facebook, Apple, Google or Amazon.

“We call this surveillance capitalism,” he said.

“Whether it’s being used to control us is not exactly a word I would use,” he added. “It’s certainly being used to sell us things.”

He said he worries whether a company’s moral and legal incentives align with the moral truth, noting a recent discussion with a car manufacturer’s representative regarding autonomous automobiles with a solution of better brakes suggested.

“That gave me some pretty serious pause,” Jenkins said. “But it made realize we have to do a better job of communicating the ethical importance of questions like that, and we shouldn’t count on systems being perfect, for example.

“We have to make sure that they are programmed to behave in ways society would approve of, whether or not it’s the way that happens to be the most profitable,” he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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