Leading Change: A glimpse at our cognitively enhanced future
Posted on October 23, 2017 by 0 comments 0 likes
“The arrival of artificial thinking accelerates all other disruptions. We can say with certainty that cognification is inevitable, because it is already here.” – Kevin Kelly, author of The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future.
We sat down with Rainmaker Pete Trainor, author, behavioural designer, technologist, mental health campaigner and co-founder of US Ai in London, to help us make sense of this digital smartness and its potential applications in the charity sector. Pete specialises in creative & social technologies, data, artificial intelligence and the physiological & psychological effects on their audiences.
An analyst on emergent technologies, and tech markets, Pete has helped to pioneer an entirely new approach to AI focused services to help solve societal and human issues. In setting up US AI, Pete made a conscious decision to leverage the work they do with corporates (primarily in financial services) in order to facilitate deployment of their technology to mental health charities. The more AI projects they roll out with corporates, the more good they can do in the world.
It’s no wonder that Pete has become interested in mentoring MAC-UK, one of the Rainmaker #CharityAccelerator members, working to transform mental health services for excluded young people.
He has a very simple philosophy: Don’t do things better, do better things.
“Artificial intelligence in the corporate world may still be in its infancy. But knowing where AI innovation is headed and understanding how to integrate AI into your organisation, will very soon make the difference between winning and losing. This is true not just for corporates, but also for charities, who stand to gain the most benefit from emerging technologies.
We have a serious mental health crisis in the UK and I got involved in helping because of my own experience, but also because I saw too many friends suffering and even dying, struggling to deal with mental health issues.
Currently, we’re building an AI platform in collaboration with a number of mental health charities, specifically focused on supporting young men. SU (a reflection of US) can have conversations with them about their problems at a time when they are least likely to reach out to another human. SU is designed to be philosophical and engaging. And it continues to get smarter as it learns. We have a tremendous opportunity to help by automating contact, and support, especially in those darkest moments.
There’s a lot of fear out there about the advent of AI and what this means in terms of job displacement. We’ve seen great leaps over the last decade, but in reality, we’re still at least 30 years away from a machine being able to do the job of a very qualified person.
Interestingly, any automation we’ve deployed in corporations and banks, we’ve seen that it’s actually created more jobs than there were before. AI frees up money for businesses to have more staff, experts and consultants in front of clients, generating more money. In this way the economic value of automating processes is definitely underreported. There are many dystopian views on emergent technologies, but the economic and humanitarian opportunities created by AI are massive.
It’s frequently asked whether mental health is becoming more of a problem now, or if it’s always been there but we just haven’t spoken about it. I would say that tech has made a massive contribution – it’s raised awareness levels through the roof. Before, we didn’t have the communication channels to amplify this kind of messaging. People were going about unaware that they were suffering from the same things as others. But now, we have a very interesting problem to tackle. Tech has normalised the sharing and accessing of huge amounts of information. Ironically, the more people who now feel supported enough to come out to talk about their problems, the greater the burden on the services that are there to help. There’s a post-war generation which has been driven through radical world changes. These people have really struggled to survive the changes, which are now happening more and more rapidly. This age group accounts for the highest number of suicides, which makes them the biggest at-risk group. At the other end, we now have teenagers who are born digital, they’re victims of cyberbullying and celebrity culture that technology and social media give rise to. Technology led this last group to a somnambulist life, taking from them a sense of who they truly are. But it’s entirely possible that we can use that same technology to give them back the meaning if we do it in the right way. These are both combustible groups and we’ve lit the match in the last decade. Now we can help, and we must.
It’s critical that we understand mental health as a heart problem, not just a head problem. The heart and head are connected, scientifically this is true, as the brainwaves and heartwaves follow the same path. Today, we’re surrounded by a lot of negativity and bad news, which is having a huge effect on our heads and our hearts, both at the individual level and on society as a whole. My wife has been mugged three times, the last time was outside our home, when she was heavily pregnant and with our 4-year-old son by her side. What drives someone to do something so wrong, to behave so desperately? Everything is connected, so we have to take a holistic view, to see what the systemic issues are and in which ways we can help each other. That’s why I’m so happy to find ways to support MAC-UK.
MAC-UK have the right people trying to solve the right problem. They’re transforming mental health services for young people who offend, or are at risk of offending, with peer-led projects by the ex-beneficiaries themselves. Right now we’re in a technology driven society, living with a generation of people who are stealing phones because they love technology.
So technology can become a very interesting way of reaching and engaging young people with mental health problems. We’ve been waiting for AI to be commoditised, commercialised, democratised and finally it’s the right time for it to be the product to help solve human issues.
One of the breakthroughs that are making AI viable now after about a 70-year wait, is the incredible avalanche of data which fuels AI. We are generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data globally, every single day. And 90% of the data in the world today has been generated in the last 2 years alone! This massive digital universe provides the schooling needed to make AI smart.
The undeniable juxtaposition of technology and our hyper-connected lives is that people use tech to find connectedness, but paradoxically it disconnects us from reality. Technology exploits our loneliness and the fear of the messiness of intimacy. Social networks give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. So when I say, tech is exacerbating the mental health crisis, it’s both in economics (amplifying the message and making it ok to talk about mental health), but also in creating more disconnected lives. It’s a pretty twisted irony that I now find myself using technology like SU to try and support people who feel disconnected from others. People slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone when actually it’s the opposite that’s true.
There’s certainly a growing concern about the blurred lines between humanity and technology, and it’s natural to wonder about the societal and ethical impacts of artificial intelligence, but we have to overcome this fear-based narrative that AI will ruin humanity. It’s increasingly evident that artificial intelligence can free us from the manual, mundane jobs so that as humans, we can be free to be more evolved. For all its pitfalls, technology can give professional people back the time they need to seek out the lonely souls and give them human support. I truly believe that AI will create a type of renaissance. It will give people the ability to do more of the nonlinear things that they’re really good at.
Ultimately, it’s people who will decide which way AI goes. Artificial Intelligence is a blend of human intelligence (past human learning and inputs of our current online activity). Our experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways such that every task molds the very structure of our brain in ways that strengthen our proclivity for that task. Similarly, the way we teach our AI systems will determine the structure of its neural networks.
Tech is created by people, for people, so let’s start focusing on the benefits, and how it can positively impact society.”