Artificial Intelligence or AI is a powerful technology that potentially has the power to create machines that can replace humans. This perception is the basis of the dread with which some consider AI and the fabled coming rise of the machines. However, AI, like any other technology, is a tool, says Dr. Maya Ackerman, founder, and CEO of AI startup WaveAI. She and her team are behind the breakthrough songwriting AI platform ALYSIA, a platform that, in her words, can cut down songwriting from hours to just minutes. We recently caught up with Dr. Ackerman to discuss the future of AI in a world that values unique human characteristics.
“The definition of intelligence has evolved,” Dr. Ackerman says. “In the past, intelligence was characterized by things like speed and accuracy, two things that machines excel at,” she says, “but that definition has changed to refer to an ability to tackle higher-order problem solving and creativity.” This definition is crucial when it comes to defining what AI can and cannot do. For instance, machines are extremely competent at doing repetitive tasks, something that may not be considered as a form of intelligence. However, at the same time, through such repetitive tasks, AI can be trained to create at a level well beyond that of human capabilities.
“The definition of intelligence is closely tied to what makes us human, hence the changes over time,” suggests Dr. Ackerman. She points out that when the definition of human intelligence begins to become conflated with that of machine intelligence, it affects the very essence of who we are as humans, a situation that creates a sense of anxiety around AI. However, referring to ALYSIA, Dr. Ackerman points out that AI’s real utility is as a tool to make humans more intelligent, more powerful and able to achieve more. She clarifies that her AI platform is not built to replace human intelligence, but augment and enhance it.
The Human Factor
In Japan, there is a cultural trend that is catching on where musical concerts have hologram performers and machine-synthesized songs. While there are humans behind these events, the entire performance is conducted without any humans in sight. “While computers can be taught to simulate emotion, they cannot spontaneously create genuine emotions,” Dr. Ackerman says. “This is an important aspect about AI in that it cannot replace the connections that humans have with each other.” While a time will come when such performances may pass the Turing Test, she says, the human factor will still be the main thing that differentiates humans from machines.
“Machines are extremely good at creating options,” Dr. Ackerman says. However, she says that what machines are not very good at is choosing, something that humans are very good at doing. If you ask anyone to pick between two paintings, they will be able to do so, no matter whether they can create similar paintings or not. What she sees from this bifurcation of skills is an opportunity to collaborate in the creative process. With AI providing options and humans acting as a filter making choices, there can exist a symbiotic relationship between AI and humans, allowing humans to create ever faster, more accurately and more creatively.
“Social impact is always an issue when it comes to technology,” says Dr. Ackerman. She explains that some of the issues that AI is raising have to do with social issues like job security, warfare and other sectors of society. “AI must be approached from a humanistic perspective, with emphasis on what implications the applications have on society and humanity,” she continues. She points out that while technology can have multiple applications, it should be focused on providing humans with greater freedom, empowerment, and capabilities, things that will not detract from humanity but enhance humanity’s options.
As AI advances, she points out; there needs to be in place social and political structures in place that allow society to participate in defining and determining the future of AI. This way, such powerful tools will be developed to benefit humanity and not just a few. Such a forum will also ensure that the limits of AI applications are set in preference of society. As such, AI applications will not be developed and deployed in an abrupt manner that would shatter society through job losses and autonomous AI.
“ALYSIA does not replace songwriters, it just makes them better at what they do,” says Dr. Ackerman. This statement points to what she feels is the real power of AI; the ability to empower people to do more. She compares the future of AI-assisted songwriting to the rise in consumer photography via smartphones. In the same way smartphone cameras made everyone an amateur photographer, so will ALYSIA make everyone an amateur songwriter. This alludes to a future where people will be skilled at operating AI that performs tasks that the operators may not be good at. “Roles may change as technology progresses,” says Dr. Ackerman, “but computers will not overtake us as humans. Instead, they will only get more useful to us.”