Must-read of the week: AI by Design: A Plan For Living With Artificial Intelligence by Catriona Campbell

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AI by Design by Catriona Campbell, one of the UK’s leading experts in human-computer interaction and design, is an essential and authoritative overview of the dazzling future of artificial intelligence and a wake-up call to the world to join together to control the development of AI  for the benefit—and, possibly, preservation—of humanity.

By Gwyneth Rees

You may not be readily aware of it but artificial intelligence (AI) is already pervasive in our lives, from helping us choose which series to watch on Netflix and answering our customer service questions to managing our mortgage applications and pension funds.

Yet, even as we consciously (and unconsciously) use AI-driven software and apps every day, we still don’t really understand what AI is, how it works or where it will lead humanity in the future.

Given the staggering potential of AI to transform our lives—and the certainty that it will do so over the coming decades—from policy makers and business leaders to the general public, we all need to get to grips with our AI-powered future, and this is where absorbing new book AI by Design: A Plan For Living With Artificial Intelligence comes in.

Written by AI expert and technology entrepreneur Catriona Campbell, one of the UK’s leading specialists in human computer interaction, AI by Design is a practical roadmap to navigating through the AI revolution successfully.

In the wrong hands, such a book could prove as dense and complicated to process as the computer code that powers AI but, thankfully, Campbell has more than two decades’ professional experience translating the heady into the understandable.

As the founder of Seren, Europe’s largest service design agency, she has worked with companies including Barclays, Skype, Dell and Microsoft, has been responsible for the implementation of the ‘red button’ interactive service offered by the BBC and Sky and, if that wasn’t enough, she worked with the UK Government back in 2005 on the UKs first Usability & Accessibility standards, which ensures that every web surfer can access the internet regardless of their particular needs.

As such, she writes from the practical, down-to-earth perspective of a business entrepreneur rather than as an academic, making for a guide which is eminently accessible and informative and which, by the close, will make you feel almost as smart as AI.

And, as we soon come to learn from AI by Design, AI is already super-smart and will only continue to develop as the years progress. Its ability to crunch data faster than a dog chows down its dinner means that it will increasingly be used in all areas of life from medicine, finance and agriculture to, more alarmingly, warfare and crime.

It will also continue to become more capable, moving from the current generation of ‘narrow-AI’ where AI applications, such as chat bots, use machine learning (ML) to perform one task—and get better at it as more information is absorbed—to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which doesn’t yet exist but will be capable of human-level reasoning, applying the information it learns to whatever tasks it is put to.

From there, Campbell says, will come Artificial Dominant Intelligence (ADI)—where the machines, now with human levels of intelligence, begin a steep evolutionary growth curve which will rapidly accelerate AI away from its slowly evolving, and staggeringly dumb by comparison, human creators.

AI expert Catriona Campbell has written AI by Design to put forward a practical roadmap addressing the challenges posed by the forthcoming AI revolution.

This is where things become truly interesting, and why the author has set out to raise awareness of AI and its future now—several decades before these developments are expected to take place.

For this moment of transition, known as the ‘Singularity’, will be a watershed moment for humanity. In a world where humankind is no longer the dominant species, Campbell says it is imperative that we retain control of artificial intelligence or risk being sidelined, and perhaps even annihilated.

It is this eventuality that, as the book points out, has led to the likes of Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking issuing stark warnings, with the former describing AI as “potentially more dangerous than nukes” and the latter observing that, to future AI, we would be like ants—which have a tendency to be stepped upon, not out of malice but simply because they got in the way.

Campbell sums this up as follows: So, what happens at that fateful moment of the Singularity as AI becomes self-aware? Will it continue to follow the tasks, objectives and rules set by its human masters? I refer to The Terminator movie franchise to explain how that situation plays out: SkyNet AI takes control of the world’s war machines and decides to eradicate the real enemy – humanity. This outcome is classic sci-fi, but when seen from our human history and experience, is it likely that a dominant “one-intelligence” would happily share power with an inferior species? There are no examples in human history where powerful economic and military nations have actively acquiesced to inferior ones … It would take an unusually enlightened AI overlord to cede political or economic control to their human inferiors.

While the prospect of the Singularity may, understandably, be alarming, Campbell’s point in mentioning it is not to paint doomsday but to wake up those responsible for AI—the technology companies and world leaders—so they are on the same page as all the experts currently developing it, and doing so without robust legislation or agreed ethical standards to guide their path.

If properly managed, and as AI by Design constantly highlights, artificial intelligence can prove to be an overwhelming force for good.

Indeed, it is already vastly improving food yields in farmers’ fields, which could one day lead to an end to famine, and developing exciting new medical treatments that will allow us to live longer, healthier lives.

And so, with intelligence and insight, this book examines how humanity can control AI. Its purpose is to brace us for tomorrow’s AI-dominated world and outline practical guidance for what society, businesses and governments across the world must consider in its development.

Campbell explains we are at a “tipping point” in history and must act now to prevent an extinction-level event for humanity. We need to consider, long before the genie is out of the bottle, how we want our future with AI to pan out. Such structured thinking, followed by global regulation, will enable us to achieve greatness rather than our downfall.

The way to achieve this according to Campbell, whose book is the first to tackle the future of AI from a design perspective, is by employing a ‘future-back’ methodology. In simple terms, to define the best end goal (future state) and then work backwards to set near-term priorities and milestones to achieve it.

Several chapters are accordingly dedicated to the management of AI, its governing and policing, and ethical considerations, and the insight, clear instruction and advice on offer will be lapped up by those actively involved in AI.

By following the roadmap set out by the author, leaders can properly educate people to understand AI, adequately police AI, and, most importantly, manage the AI ‘jobs bomb’ looming on the horizon and the resulting unemployment fallout.

But there is so much to savour and learn even if your closest interaction with AI is Siri or Alexa.

Sections covering the potential future of cybercrime and deepfake technology (such as the viral video of the Queen dancing on a table) are eye-opening, as are concerns over facial recognition and privacy in our surveillance age.

Then there are the potential military applications that emerge from the AI arms race, and the advent of AI-powered Lethal Autonomous Weapons, not to mention augmented soldiers.

This merging of flesh with technology, which Campbell sums up as “the urge to merge”, will also spill over into everyday life, where we could one day be encased in robotic exoskeletons granting us superhuman strength. Early adopters include Brit Peter Scott-Morgan, who has used technology to replace his mobility and voice taken away by motor neurone disease. To some, he has become the world’s first cyborg.

The urge to merge is just one of five AI future scenarios presented to the reader, where Campbell—drawing upon insights into behavioural psychology, economics and history—depicts us, for instance, bound for a new life on Mars (escaping a genocidal AI), struggling to make ends meet in a society where most jobs have been taken by AI, or building AI-free enclaves in a ‘New Luddite resistance’.

As you would expect, the worst scenarios all come down to not managing the development of AI. If handled sensibly, however, we could be in for something of a utopia, where we enjoy greater leisure time and sense of community than ever before, ably aided and assisted by our dutiful AI companions.

Upon finishing AI by Design, I came away with a far greater appreciation of just how much investment is going into AI, which is predicted to be the most heavily invested branch of technology this decade, and how this is going to transform our daily lives.

There will, for sure, be upheavals but despite the many challenges ahead, Campbell is hopeful of the ultimate outcome if we can come together with a shared mission.

All told then, this is a truly comprehensive book that covers a vast subject in engrossing fashion, and with a solution-led approach.

It will appeal to professionals within the business, management and technology sectors, as well as readers of authors in AI like Kai-Fu Lee, Stuart Russell, Nick Bostrom, and will prove invaluable reading for anyone interested in where the world is heading.

As is made abundantly clear, AI will affect us all, and if you only read one book on the subject, this is it.

AI by Design: A Plan For Living With Artificial Intelligence by Catriona Campbell is published by Chapman and Hall/CRC and is out now on Amazon in paperback, hardcover and eBook, priced at £22.99, £56.99 and £14.55 respectively. For more information, visit www.catrionacampbell.com

Q&A interview with Catriona Campbell

We speak to human-computer interaction and design expert Catriona Campbell, author of new book AI by Design, to find out more about humanity’s future with AI.

Q: Is the AI-powered future something to fear or welcome?

A: Artificial intelligence will be able to improve every industry for human benefit. For example, rapid deployment of Covid vaccines was only possible with AI. The downside is that people can also use AI for ill, so we need to plan to manage these challenges.

Q: Do you think that AI will take everyone’s jobs?

A: Like every technology revolution that’s gone before, AI will take many jobs out of the market. Some will be replaced with new jobs but as AI software will automate many job functions, fewer people will be needed to operate our society. Some scientists have estimated that up to 90% of jobs will disappear. I believe that’s maybe too high but I am sure that we’ll see fewer accountants, lawyers, customer service reps and more AI specialists, online influencers and creators. Trades jobs will not go away as it’s harder to make human-like hardware and remaining jobs will become more specialised, for example cyber law experts.

Q: What does ‘merging with AI’ mean?

A: Merging with AI is how people interface with technology. Today we use voice command software like Siri or Alexa; we wear Oculus headsets and wireless earpods. Twenty years ago, none of that was possible. Also, 30,000-50,000 people every year now undertake cosmetic surgery in the UK. Merging with AI is taking this a step further. It could be grafting chips to our wrist or ear, or providing a direct link into your brain – which is what Elon Musk’s Neuralink product is already doing. This merging would augment human performance to take advantage of AI performance improvements – like cosmetic surgery to help the mind.

Q: What should governments be doing now to help manage AI?

A: I believe that it is vital that government’s focus on AI should be a mix of Industry support, legislation and education. The AI industry needs more funding from government projects so that we can develop AI products and services in the UK. There has to be legislation on how AI is used, decisions communicated and products audited so they don’t discriminate. We need to start global co-operation on legislating AI weapons, so they don’t become the nuclear weapons of the 21st century. Finally, we have to educate the economy about AI; from children to veteran employees, so they understand what it means for them—either new careers, reskilling or business opportunities. All this needs to be started in the next three years.

Q: Where is the UK currently in the development of AI technology?

A: On the AI report card the UK is ‘Doing OK … could do better’. We are not in the same league as the US and China, which spend as much money on AI as the rest of the world put together. But in Europe the UK is probably the leader in developing AI technologies. The UK has a globally renowned reputation for AI at university level which has created a world-class talent pool and research. Private investment is driving a fantastic start-up environment, predominantly in London but with successes across the country. The UK government is being supportive financially with grants and research funding. Our opportunities to develop faster are improving how we spin AI technologies out of universities and scaling UK companies into global success stories. UK plc needs its own Big Tech giants and government has to support that scaling through both direct industry support and protection from being bought by overseas competitors.

Q: Should we be afraid of China and their development of AI technology?

A: Yes, we should. China is aggressively targeting being the world leader in AI by 2045 and if that happens they will take a dominant economic position. China and the US have made investments in AI that are as big as the rest of the world combined. If the UK wants to continue to compete economically then we need to accelerate our investments in AI across education, funding and legislation.

Q: How should we be educating our children about AI?

A: Education has to start early. At secondary school, children need to understand what AI is, future careers that may exist and areas that will become more competitive. We also need to make it fun and accessible. Our computer science curriculum needs to be more engaging and make children excited. If they don’t understand the importance of STEM subjects—or aren’t interested—then they won’t take them at GCSE/higher level, so are lost to science subjects for good. We should tell the good news that there are other directions than technology; creative arts will grow—influencers and content providers have a career! Also, roles that involve trades skills or personal skills.

Q: In your book you present five potential future AI scenarios. Can you briefly explain these?

A: The five scenarios are potential future options for how the world could be. I have not considered the possibility that we fail and are made extinct. I don’t believe that, and it would make for a fairly short book! Using a ‘Future Back’ model, I created five potential scenarios before settling on the most likely one to build a plan around. The first scenario, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, is where we let things happen and become controlled by interest groups and Big Tech companies, in a dark, dystopian future. My problem with this scenario is that it’s not realistic—we already regulate and design for AI, but this scenario is where we could end up if we don’t manage AI effectively.

The most controversial scenario I have investigated is ‘Are we Living in a Simulation?’ There is a (albeit small) scientific movement that believes that we are in a simulation, like The Sims. Although an interesting concept, the evidence is too slight (i.e. none!) to take this option seriously.

Similarly, the idea of ‘Escaping AI for Mars’ just doesn’t have the legs to be the answer. Spending on preparing commercial spaceflight to Mars is already running to tens of billions of dollars and while it will happen, AI will be needed to support any life on Mars so running from AI simply won’t be possible.

Another scenario, ‘The New Luddites’, is a throwback to reactions against technological disruption—where small communities decide to isolate themselves from AI and live outside the mainstream. I see this as feasible and it will likely happen somewhere. However, these groups will be outliers—so small and insignificant that we can’t base a global plan on them.

Q: Which of these scenarios do you think is most probable?

A: The most compelling scenario I suggest is the ‘Urge to Merge’, where we physically merge with AI. We already have our phones within arm’s reach for over 20 hours a day and in the UK alone there are up to 50,000 cosmetic surgery procedures a year, so are already partly down this road. Elon Musk’s Neuralink product has already helped monkeys communicate and people can already move robotic fingers using thought. It seems probable that if you could improve your brains capability then why wouldn’t you? I believe it is how we will approach living with AI: essentially, if we can’t beat them then join them.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with AI by Design?

A: My first goal was to get my thoughts down onto paper and finish the book! Why I started in the first place was because about five years ago I got really interested in AI and started to blog about it. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. When I spoke to my children I realised how little they knew and so made them watch We Need To Talk About A.I. – a fantastic AI documentary. This pushed me to pull my thoughts together as I feel that there is a lot of talk about AI but we could do more to make it feel ‘real’ for people.