When Artificial Intelligence is written about or debated in the mainstream, the downsides are amplified most. This narrative must be taken with a pinch of salt is an argument Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, makes in his book Hit Refresh.
“All too often, science fiction writers and even technology innovators themselves have gotten caught up in the game of pitting digital minds against human ones as if in a war for supremacy. Headlines were made in 1996 when IBM’s Deep Blue demonstrated that a computer could win a champion-level chess game against a human. The following year Deep Blue went a giant step further when it defeated Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov in an entire six-game match. It was stunning to see a computer win a contest in a domain long regarded as representing the pinnacle of human intelligence. By 2011, IBM Watson had defeated two masters of the game show Jeopardy!, and in 2016 Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo outplayed Lee Se-dol, a South Korean master of Go, the ancient, complex strategy game played with stones on a grid of lines, usually nineteen by nineteen.
“Make no mistake, these are tremendous science and engineering feats. But the future holds far greater promise than computers beating humans at games. Ultimately, humans and machines will work together—not against one another. Imagine what’s possible when humans and machines work together to solve society’s greatest challenges—disease, ignorance, and poverty…
“I caught a glimpse of what a societal AI quest might yield while standing onstage with Saqib Shaikh, an engineer at Microsoft, who has helped develop technology to compensate for the sight he lost at a very young age. Leveraging a range of leading-edge technologies, including visual recognition and advanced machine learning, Saqib and his colleagues created applications that run on a small computer that he wears like a pair of sunglasses. The technology disambiguates and interprets data in real time, essentially painting a picture of the world and conveying it to Saqib audibly instead of visually. This tool allows Saqib to experience the world in richer ways—for example, by connecting a noise on the street to a stunt performed by a nearby skateboarder or sudden silence in a meeting to what coworkers might be thinking. Saqib can even ‘read’ a menu in a restaurant as his technology whispers the names of dishes in his ear. Perhaps most important, Saqib can find his own loved ones in a bustling park where they’ve gathered for a picnic.”
Point well taken!
In this issue
- Why solving climate crisis needs new tools
- The cult of haters
- Truth tellers
Why solving climate crisis needs new tools
Three lines stand out in a song sung by MS Subbulakshmi in the UN 55 years ago (October 23, 1966, to be precise) that still rings relevant when the climate summit COP26 is underway in Glasgow. When we look at the stand taken by many countries and the signal given by many leaders by declining to attend the summit, there is an undercurrent of competition. The lines go like this:
spardham tyajata (Forsake competition)
tyajata paresu akramam akramanam (Forgo unrightful aggression)
janani prthivi kamadugha(a)ste (Mother Earth yields all that we require)
In his latest essay, Arun Maira explains why cooperation is a far superior strategy for the world today than competition. He writes:
“Albert Einstein said to work harder to solve systemic problems with the same theories that have caused them is madness. The world needs new institutions designed for cooperation and not competition. The limits of economists’ theories that have guided the designs of national, and corporate, policies in the last century are becoming glaringly evident. Insights from other sciences must help the world now, rather than the views of the high priests in the religion of mainstream economics only.
“The difficulty of resolving systemic problems such as climate change and persistent social inequalities has renewed interest in the science of complex systems. The Nobel Prizes in physics and economics in 2021 have been awarded for contributions to methods of modelling complex systems...
“The world needs new explanations of how complex systems evolve to save itself from catastrophe. Theories of progress must put cooperation in the foreground and competition in the background.
“Much more cooperation is required, rather than competition, at all levels on the Planet—locally within communities, and at the top among heads of nations. Excessive competition to improve the fitness of individuals, firms, and nations is destroying the world for everyone.”
- The climate crisis: We need cooperation, not competition
- Listen to MS Subbulakhsmi’s rendition of Maithreem Bhajata (YouTube)
The cult of haters
While the internet has spawned celebrities on social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram with fan followings that run into the millions, it has also created a cult of people who hate these celebrities.
“For every fandom, there’s an equal and opposite anti-fandom,” writes Fadeke Adegbuyi in a provocative essay on the phenomenon. To explain that, she begins by talking about the life of an internet celebrity Mimi Ikonn who is much loved by her fans because “She’s lived out a rags-to-riches hero arc, from Azerbaijani immigrant to well-monied entrepreneur, residing in London with her husband, Alex, and their daughter, Alexa. Ikonn is the quintessential image of an online influencer—renewing her wedding vows in Positano, writing about the power of a growth mindset, welcoming subscribers to take a peek into her life.”
However, on Guru Gossip, a place where people gather to talk about online influencers, “Mimi Ikonn is really ‘MeMe,’ a narcissist days away from bankruptcy. She’s desperately clinging to her fading youth and a husband who doesn’t love her… This hate is anything but casual—Guru Gossipers aren’t just observers, they’re investigators. They’ve pored over public business filings and government documents, searching far and wide for anything that feeds the conspiracy: Mimi and her husband are scam artists projecting a false image online to siphon money from anyone stupid enough to buy into their shtick.”
What motivates such hate? When Adegbuyi started to investigate, she writes “Several told me that they spend a few hours each day in the Discord, and all of them saw their online hate as a form of entertainment.”
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