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AI as a new species and what to do about it

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Three groundbreaking insights about the future of AI from visionary researcher Mustafa Suleyman's latest TED talk. 

Suleyman, who has been at the forefront of AI development for 15 years, offers a thought-provoking perspective on what the rise of advanced AI could mean for humanity. By framing AI as a "digital species" that will become our ubiquitous companion, he invites us to grapple with both the immense potential benefits and the profound ethical challenges on the horizon. Understanding his insights will help us navigate this rapidly-approaching future with greater clarity and purpose.

Now, let's dive in.

Reflection #1: A new digital species

The metaphor of AI as a "digital species" radically reframes our understanding of what AI could become.

Suleyman suggests that "AI should best be understood as something like a new digital species. Now, don't take this too literally, but I predict that we'll come to see them as digital companions, new partners in the journeys of all our lives." 

This shift prompts us to confront the staggering implications of a world where AI is woven into every aspect of life as an intelligent, autonomous presence. "Everything will soon be represented by a conversational interface. Or, to put it another way, a personal AI," Suleyman explains. 

This future blurs the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence, challenging our notions of agency, identity, and what it means to think and create. 

Those who fail to grapple with this will be left behind by the transformative changes to come.

3 actionable tips for educators:

  1. Why not create an interdisciplinary course exploring the philosophical, psychological and sociological implications of AI as a "digital species."

  2. Ask students to design their own AI study companion using a tool like Magic School.

  3. Develop projects that enable students to investigate the risks and benefits of ubiquitous AI, encouraging them to propose innovative solutions.

Reflection #2: We shape AI

We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to shape what AI becomes by building our values into it from the start.  

"Because we are still designing and building AI, we have the potential and opportunity to do it better, radically better," Suleyman emphasises. 

Unlike past technological revolutions that unleashed unintended harms, the early stage of advanced AI means we can be proactive about how we create it. Will we prioritise human values like empathy and creativity to unlock AI's potential to benefit all of humanity? 

"As we build out AI, we can and must reflect all that is good, all that we love, all that is special about humanity: our empathy, our kindness, our curiosity and our creativity," Suleyman urges. 

The choices we make now could reverberate for generations. Advocating for a more ethical approach to building AI is key to ushering in the brightest possible future.

3 actionable tips for educators:

  1. Develop a curriculum on the ethical dimensions of AI development, including algorithmic bias, data privacy, and social responsibility.

  2. Does there need to be more of an emphasis on ethics and philosophy classes to help students explore human values? 

  3. Do we do enough in promoting initiatives that showcase the best of humanity e.g. charity projects and inspirational leaders who show the values we want to advocate for?

Reflection #3: AI is us

AI will ultimately reflect and amplify humanity itself - for better or worse.

Suleyman argues that "AI isn't separate. AI is us. It's all of us." 

He explains, "AI isn't even in some senses, new. AI is the whole of everything that we have created, distilled down into something that we can all interact with and benefit from. It's a reflection of humanity across time." 

AI will magnify our greatest aspirations and abilities, but could also mirror our flaws if we aren't careful. AI is not just a technological challenge, but an existential one that strikes at the heart of who we are and want to be. Recognising this truth empowers us to shape AI as a positive force, while underestimating it risks being shaped by AI in unintended ways.

3 actionable tips for educators:

  1. Design learning experiences that challenge students to confront the implications of AI as a reflection of humanity, using historical case studies and discussions.

  2. Encourage deep introspection and dialogue about personal values, beliefs, and biases, and their influence on shaping AI.

  3. Create a school-wide culture emphasising the importance of actively shaping AI as a positive force, reflecting on current social situations and news stories as a way to prompt students to think about how humanity functions.

My hope is that Suleyman's insights have opened your mind to both the wonders and weighty implications of advanced AI. 

May you be inspired to envision and work toward the best possible future, where artificial and human intelligence evolve together for the greater good. 

The journey ahead will be challenging and full of complex questions, but also brimming with potential. 

As Suleyman put it, this is "the greatest challenge of the 21st century, but also the most wonderful, inspiring and hopeful opportunity for all of us." 

I wish you wisdom and clarity as you venture forward into this brave new era with your students and colleagues.


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