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Challenge Artificial Intelligence

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is coming, and we can’t stop it. The genie is out of to bottle. Artificial intelligence is one of those terms along its related concepts that are broad and hard to define. For today, we’ll use this as the example of AI; you search for some item on eBay, Amazon or even more broadly in Google and next thing you know you’re seeing ads and receiving emails about that and related items everywhere you look. Artificial intelligence is being used to determine what you like and show you—and get you to buy--more of it.  

In a news story on television the other day, a museum curator uses AI to show patrons only the kinds of art they like. Social media uses AI to determine what kind of content and even what kinds of thoughts and ideas you might like. 

When I was growing up, I refused to eat beets, spinach and liver. My mother tried again and again over time to get me to try these foods, but to no avail. Had she been artificially intelligent, learning that I didn’t like these foods she would have given up and filtered them outEventually I discovered that I like beets and spinach; but liver, never. She taught me that it’s good to try new foods and ideas and that learning and understanding, indeed, innovation, comes from a diverse collection of experiences. 

In his book “Where Good Ideas Come From” Steven Johnson explores some of the greatest innovations such as the printing press, the pencil, the flush toilet, the battery and others with the stories of how they came about. Most didn’t come about because a flash of brilliance came into someone’s head. They came about as a disjointed collection of ideas in someone’s head, some new, some floating around for years, came together in a new and different way to form a great new idea. 

How are great new ideas going to come from our minds if AI only shows us the thoughts, ideas and products that we think we like? How will we ever discover that we like new and different things if we’re never shown new and different things? Isn’t this what’s already wrong with political and other kinds of public discourse today? We get used to only liking what we like and thinking about what we like and we’re not open to anyone else’s views? Won’t public debate, which should lead to better decisions, only continue to erode if we allow AI to increasingly filter out what it thinks we don’t like? 

While we can’t stop AI from evolving in our world, we can be aware of what it is doing (let alone the fact the AI can be influenced by commercial interest trying to get us to buy stuff) and work extra hard to experience a wide variety of ideas, thoughts, knowledge and even food. We can also make our youth aware of AI and that we have to work to be independent, critical thinkers even as AI is trying to filter our experiences. 

My mother wasn’t artificially intelligent, she was genuinely intelligent. I’m not sure she realized just how intelligent she was. She was a farm mom in southwest Kansas doing the best she could to raise a young boy to be curious about how the world works. She did this by introducing me to lots of different experiences, and food, while trying to teach me to be respectful of and helpful to others. If we really want artificial intelligence to be good, we’ll make it intelligent enough to do the same instead of merely trying to filter all the stuff in our lives that we don’t like. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  


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