The rapid growth of digital technologies and their deep penetration into all aspects of human endeavors makes us optimistic about a new world in which technology shall impact both the conscience and conduct of the humans. The advent of artificial intelligence, AI assisted by deep computing and face recognition technologies are breaking new grounds for impacting human behaviour and conduct, naturally so as no amount of preaching would work on netizens of the new digital age who are more attracted towards intelligent machines than the wise counsel coming from the learned quarters who often preach without practice. The increasing reliance on intelligent machines, as at present is a sign of our faith in the power of machines and their intelligence that works with fairness and without fear.
But then there is a catch here too. As the intelligence of humans acknowledges no bounds. It can swing its way to either towards wrongs or towards the rights, whichever way the human brain decides to go. It is here that the conscience of humans plays an important role to raise alarms and reminds of righteous conduct that the omnipresent Aatman in man invokes. But it all depends whether one follows or negates his conscience, called Aatmanubhuti in the Vedas. The Vedic texts however warn that “Aatmana Aatmanaiv Bandhu, Aatmanaiv Ripur Aatmana” as in Bhagwat Gita 6.5. Meaning there by that one’s conscience if obeyed becomes one great friend and if not it turns out to be his arch enemy.
The debate has already begun on evolving universally acceptable codes of ethics and morals for the Autonomous and Intelligent Machines such that they are designed for ethics and morals akin to a civilized human race. The clarity on scientific ethics and morals that are neutral to locality and regions are to be carefully evolved to make them address the issue of wellbeing and welfare of the vast humanity and the responsibility of such intelligent and autonomous machines to protect the environment and the rich diversity of the nature. Further, these ethics and morals are to be embedded in machine intelligence in a manner that they ensure that even if the machine conditions its attitude to defy its built in codes of ethics, it is not allowed to do so under any circumstances. It is here the intelligence of Artificial Intelligent machines and autonomous systems shall play an important role in maintaining the safe guards and the layers of safety. Just like a human being is guided by his conscience that works through his brain, prompted by the inspirational guidance provided by the purest of the pure Aatman, the soul of the being, the intelligent machines need to have an embedded code of ethics and morals that will protect the interest of man and that of mother nature.
The horror of an autonomous robot killing a coworker in an automotive plant in Manesar, Haryana in August 2015 are still fresh in the minds and as such the issue of ethics and morals for intelligent and autonomous systems need to take on board human safety, both at the workplace, and at home where the use of intelligent AI powered machines is being advocated.
The intelligent, smart, and autonomous machines of tomorrow including the robots at the workplace have to be provided with the codes of ethics and professional morals binding upon them to utilize their intelligence and autonomy for the larger collective good of the humanity and the esteem, dignity, and honor of the class of such machines. It is equally important to create an environment in which humans and the intelligent and autonomous machines could work together as coworkers in harmony and with empathy. It is heartening to note that the largest professional body of Electronics and IT professionals of the world, IEEE has begun to draft its vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.
The IEEE document on the Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, 2017 clearly states that “As the use and impact of autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) become pervasive, we need to establish societal and policy guidelines in order for such systems to remain human-centric, serving humanity’s values and ethical principles. These systems must be developed and should operate in a way that is beneficial to people and the environment, beyond simply reaching functional goals and addressing technical problems. This approach will foster the heightened level of trust between people and technology that is needed for its fruitful use in our daily lives.” The document however goes to caution that “ethical” should go beyond moral constructs and include social fairness, environmental sustainability, and our desire for self-determination.
It is therefore quite imperative that like humans the intelligence of machines and their ability to take informed decisions taking the situations and circumstances into account, as also to take the interest of the societies where they are employed shall enable the Intelligent and Autonomous Systems to evolve over a period of time almost like a human brain that attains a level of emotional maturity and a state of consciousness that enables a man to reflect on the pros and cons of his actions and take guards accordingly. Neural Networks are indeed very much faster than human brains, their only con is that they can accomplish only very specific tasks whereas human brains can accomplish a wide variety of tasks. As such the true intelligence lies in being able to adapt to a wide variety of tasks and neural networks still don’t have that capability. The development of new layers of intelligent AI and their integration into rapidly emerging machine learning technologies are bound to create tomorrow’s intelligent and autonomous machines that shall act with an inbuilt conscious mind capable to reflecting on their pros and cons of actions.
But today’s Artificial Intelligence, that is inbuilt in the machines and systems in the form of lines of code that run on computers and servers and process large size data obtained from various sources, is still no match to the ability of a biological brain that modulates its response based on the feelings of positive or negative rewards of one’s actions. AI expert like Dr Churchland maintains “It’s hard to know how flexible behavior can be when the anatomy of the machine is very different from the anatomy of the brain. In the case of biological systems, the feelings of positive and negative reward are essential for organisms to learn about the environment. That may not be true in the case of artificial neural networks.” ( Churchland, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, 2019 ).
It is also important to recognize that use of technology in general and the time spent on use of digital technologies and social media have begun to impact human behaviour in a big way. Our ability to use our biological brain is greatly impaired due to our preoccupation with the visuals in front of our eyes. The biological brain requires time to contemplate on the situation and to draw from its rich reservoir of experiences mapped in its subconscious mind before it could reflect on the current. The fears of limiting or rather conditioning of the human brains are not totally unfounded as we already see that the ability to memorize even the mobile numbers of near and dear is significantly impacted by use of the smart phones. The same is the case with computing by mind much of the arithmetic that was earlier handled by human mind before the arrival of electronic calculators.
The human brain has taken several thousands of years to evolve though learning and relearning from real life situations. The intelligent AI powered autonomous machines like robots of tomorrow will be able to develop their brains much faster due to easy access to voluminous data and the ultra speed of transactions in the coming years as the days of hyper connectivity and edge computing have arrived.
In the case of AI powered intelligent and autonomous machines, the fear that once AI develops fully the machines shall over smart humans and even pose a threat to human civilization is not totally unfounded. unless machines of conscience and righteous conduct are evolved to be placed as coworkers in tomorrow’s intelligent and smart technology centric societies. As we move into the deeper layers of augmented age, a more complex, yet much better connected world and ever impacting environment of technology integration, our future shall lie in creating a blissful partnership between humanity, technology and nature.
Aadeesh is an undergraduate student of computer science at Arizona State University and Prof Pritam B Sharma is an eminent educationist, Founder Vice Chancellor of DTU and RGPV and Past President of Association of Indian Universities, AIU.