My Friendship with AI - A Reflection Piece on my Time at C Minds

Author: Analisa Ruiz

This is my final blog post at C Minds, and I’m taking this space to reflect on what I’ve learned throughout my 6 months internship. For context, I did not know that much about Artificial Intelligence (AI) before 6 months ago. My primary sources of information on this subject were from the Iron Man movies, and in terms of ethics and privacy, I figured I could just consult the FBI agent in my phone listening to all my conversations.

But that was then, and this is now. After learning about C Minds’ work I was truly inspired to learn more about tech for impact, and my interest has only grown since joining the team. After hours of research, presentations, reports and pilot projects, I feel comfortable describing myself as somewhat proficient in the subject. Ok maybe not proficient, but I have learned a thing or two, and in the next 500 or so words you might as well.

Let’s get one thing straight: Artificial Intelligence ≠ robots. Allow me to explain: Artificial Intelligence is an algorithm (like an equation with missing parts) that accepts inputs (to fill those aforementioned missing parts), and then based on these inputs, provides an outcome, which can be used to gain more clarity on a certain subject or in some cases can help humans make decisions. What’s particularly interesting about AI is that it can improve over time and learn from its past calculations. This ability to learn and self-correct is what makes it “intelligent.” (If you are relatively unfamiliar with AI, have a look at a more detailed description here.)

Now that we have that clear, I’m going to dive a little deeper into AI and its implications. Just like humans, AI thrives on data. The more information it has the better it can make decisions. With data, AI can detect patterns and predict an outcome or decide what is the most favorable decision depending on the goal. Unlike humans, it does not take into account emotions or ethics (yet). This has caused a lot of discussion on the role of AI in our society, and rightfully so. For example, why does it bother me that Facebook has our information? Facebook feeds data about its users to its algorithms, which subsequently produce ads and content relevant to each user’s preferences. There are plenty of people in my life who know my birthday, where I live, my opinions, etc. and base their interactions with me on this information. But when Facebook uses this information to personalize the content I see, that is problematic for me. Why?

Well for one thing, I don’t like being broken down by equations. I pride myself on my individuality and independence, so it’s almost like a personal offense that companies are able to predict my tastes and find patterns in my behavior. It also is problematic for me because of the consequences it implies. If our behavior can be predicted, to what extent can we be controlled? There already exists examples of people around the world using AI to take advantage of the copious amounts of data we produce and manipulate our decisions (see Facebook - Cambridge Analytica Scandal) or to categorize and exclude certain groups (see Uighur Muslim minority in China).

Data privacy is just one aspect of AI, and while it is in the news a lot, there are so many other side effects that we must consider with AI development, and they’re not all bad. Below I share some of the examples I’m particularly excited about.

Continued progress in the healthcare division has led to the early detection and improved diagnoses of various diseases. Governments are starting to untap AI’s potential as well, and C  Minds is even working with a local government to use AI to improve government-citizen communication! And with natural language processing, people are able to communicate with each other like never before.

Personally, I see our progress with AI as the next step in human evolution. Since the beginning of time, we have used our knowledge as a way to improve our interactions with each other, with ourselves, and with the world. AI is just another item in a long list of inventions that facilitates that. Of course there are risks we must mitigate. It is complicated and sometimes it would be easier if things just stayed how they are. However, the future is coming whether we want it or not. It is up to us to shape this future.

I get it, this can be scary. But don’t worry, just take a look at what institutions around the world are doing to stay ahead. Just last month, 42 countries agreed to adopt a new set of guidelines for the responsible use of AI. All around the world governments are creating strategies, agendas, and policies to develop stronger foundations for ethical AI use. And companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM all have initiatives to promote AI for social good.

I would also like offer my experience as some reassurance. Through C Minds, I have met people throughout Mexico and the Americas working with emerging technologies to solve social issues. Without exception, each person is working with the intention of harnessing the power of technology to a better society. Simply knowing the amount of people who genuinely want to improve the lives of others and are taking the initiative to do so gives me a tremendous amount of confidence about the future. I like to think that I am a part of this group of change makers, and after working with C Minds I feel more prepared than ever to take on whatever challenge I come across.

**This post was written independently of C Minds. Any and all views or opinions are a sole reflection of the author.