How will AI change the world?


Since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, AI has become the talk of the town. Some are optimistic about the development, but a lot of people are worried. This text explains why the question put in the heading is wrong. Rather than asking how AI will change the word, we should ask: how do we want AI to change the world?


About 1,5 years ago, the American company OpenAI launched the virtual assistant ChatGPT. The tool, which is a so called chatbot, i.e. a software that generates answers to questions put to it, soon became very popular. The speed at which ChatGPT can generate answers to a wide range of questions fascinated many, and the concept of “Artificial Intelligence”, AI, became a popular topic since ChatGPT was classified as an AI-chatbot.

Since then, the technological development has moved on, and today there are a number of different innovations using “intelligent” algorithms analysing, for example, x-ray images with the purpose of identifying cancer; selecting candidates in a recruitment process; or in drones, identifying the need for maintenance on electrical wires in areas that are difficult to access. The usages are many and the consequences are huge, for individuals and organisations, as well as for society at large.


What should we think about this development?

Will it lead to a better world, or to a decline? The question does not have a simple answer, but based on our research there are four aspects that should be considered.

First of all: the future development of artificial intelligence has to do with how we see human intelligence, HI; AI has, after all, developed as an imitation of HI, and the whole idea with AI is that HI can be translated into digitalized software. This means that also the future development of AI builds on the hypothesis that everything a human is can be translated into ones and zeros manipulated within mathematical calculations. But is this really the case? Are we just biological machines that, given enough time and resources, can be replicated in a computer programme? Can feelings, experiences, memories really only be reduced to chemical and hormonal processes that can be measured and re-produced? And what happens when we reduce the human to biology, chemistry, and physics and come to accept that view of ourselves? What do we gain through this calculative bio-machine understanding of ourselves – and what do we lose? What will the consequences be for our shared culture, for the belief in something greater than ourselves, the legal status of machines or indeed for the sanctity of life. Are we then to see human depression and loneliness just as sub-optimal states or machine malfunctions? What happens when being human is nothing special?

This leads then to the second point: that the technical development is not given, it can be affected. We can affect it. What future we want is up to us. In every given moment, different futures are possible, and the future that is realised depends on the choices we make here and now. If we choose to see the human as a being that may be described in terms of mathematics, then this is the future that we pave the way for. If we, on the other hand, choose to see the human as something different; as a uniquely valuable, interpretative, meaning-making, maybe even a spiritual being, then that is the future we create.

It is precisely because of this that it is important that all of us take an active role in shaping the future. If we who are not actively engaged in technical development only stand on the side, watching the development, rather than becoming engaged in it, then we will have a future that builds on choices made by technology enthusiasts and those who sees an opportunity to make money on the development. The risk is great that that future is not good at all for the human being, neither as an individual nor as a social being. Other perspectives are needed. The social sciences and humanities have important insights into the human and humanness, and these insights need to be expressed so that they matter in the development of new technologies.

And, finally: political interventions are needed. We cannot leave the development to ‘the market’, because those that have the most power here don’t necessarily want what’s best for society. Political interventions are important. The so-called ‘AI Act’ that was recently launched in Europe regarding the development and use of AI is a good step in the right direction. But we need to do more, also on a national level, to ensure that the development is funneled in a constructive way for the best of society and in a human-centric way.

For questions, kindly email: digma@mdu.se

Anette Hallin and Chris Ivory