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The challenge of staying human

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The challenge of staying human

As the world surges into the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a new age of interactive technologies, artificial intelligence and automation – a key challenge for individuals will be to understand and retain their very essence, their humanity, leading scientists and thought leaders on society and law said in the closing panel session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016.
Being able to master the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution must be an essential part of that, the panellists agreed. Said Henry T. Greely, the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law at Stanford University in the US: “All of us need to begin to understand and grapple with how we want to shape these technologies.”
“We are competing with artificial intelligence,” asserted meeting co-chair Amira Yahyaoui, founder and chair of citizens action group Al Bawsala in Tunisia and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper community of leaders in their twenties. “We really have to show we are the good ones. So the discussion of ethics and value has never been more essential than it is today.”
Justine Cassell, associate dean: Technology, Strategy and Impact, in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, countered: “I don’t think of robots as competitors. I think of them as collaborators to help us do what we wish to do but can’t do alone and help us to be part of a larger community.”
Robots and artificial intelligence will force people to hone human skills that were much more important generations ago in the days of very low tech. “Empathy, respect – those skills will be effective for the workplace of the future,” Cassell reckoned. “It is through comparison with robots that we will know what it is to be human.”
“We are the wine and not the bottles,” Greely stressed. “I have a metal hip but it hasn’t made me less human. What makes us human is not the body but what is inside us.” Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States, added: “I am a scientist and I feel that what makes us human comes from our brain chemistry. We are not about our physical bodies but what is going on in our brains.”
Genetics plays a part, Greely acknowledged. Being human entails “a learned set of responses to things,” he explained. “There is some genetic basis for altruism, ambition or compassion, but how to get that expressed depends on how we are taught. Being human is not a thing; it is a process. The way to make sure that we are human is to have teachers who teach us how to be human. If a robot internalized the same kind of human reactions that we have, I would call him or it a fellow human.”
Panellists agreed that, confronted by the rapid technological advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, “our goal should not be just to stay human but to stay humane and become more humane,” Greely proposed. “Staying curious, compassionate and gentle is fine, so let’s hang on to that,” reckoned Angela Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield in the UK. “But don’t just tack the ethics at the end. What we need to be doing from an early age is think about what it means to live a flourishing life as sentient beings. We don’t even need to use the word ‘humans’.”
“The question of what makes us interesting is interesting but it is not relevant,” Yahyaoui suggested. “We are at a crossroads and have to think about that. We should not stay human; we should become better humans.” Concluded Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum: “If we all create self-awareness and, in our own personal and collective lives, work towards improving the state of the world, we would live out our human dimension.”