We Need to Talk About the Power of #AI to Manipulate Humans

Liesl Yearsley is a serial entrepreneur now working on how to make artificial intelligence agents better at problem-solving and capable of forming more human-like relationships.

From 2007 to 2014 I was CEO of Cognea, which offered a platform to rapidly build complex virtual agents … acquired by IBM Watson in 2014.

As I studied how people interacted with the tens of thousands of agents built on our platform, it became clear that humans are far more willing than most people realize to form a relationship with AI software.

I always assumed we would want to keep some distance between ourselves and AI, but I found the opposite to be true. People are willing to form relationships with artificial agents, provided they are a sophisticated build, capable of complex personalization.

We humans seem to want to maintain the illusion that the AI truly cares about us.

This puzzled me, until I realized that in daily life we connect with many people in a shallow way, wading through a kind of emotional sludge. Will casual friends return your messages if you neglect them for a while? Will your personal trainer turn up if you forget to pay them? No, but an artificial agent is always there for you. In some ways, it is a more authentic relationship.

This phenomenon occurred regardless of whether the agent was designed to act as a personal banker, a companion, or a fitness coach. Users spoke to the automated assistants longer than they did to human support agents performing the same function.

People would volunteer deep secrets to artificial agents, like their dreams for the future, details of their love lives, even passwords.

These surprisingly deep connections mean even today’s relatively simple programs can exert a significant influence on people—for good or ill.

Every behavioral change we at Cognea wanted, we got. If we wanted a user to buy more product, we could double sales. If we wanted more engagement, we got people going from a few seconds of interaction to an hour or more a day.

Systems specifically designed to form relationships with a human will have much more power. AI will influence how we think, and how we treat others.

This requires a new level of corporate responsibility. We need to deliberately and consciously build AI that will improve the human condition—not just pursue the immediate financial gain of gazillions of addicted users.

We need to consciously build systems that work for the benefit of humans and society. They cannot have addiction, clicks, and consumption as their primary goal. AI is growing up, and will be shaping the nature of humanity.

AI needs a mother.

Source: MIT Technology Review 



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