How does technology affect our lives? Will artificial intelligence take over humans? Can business help change the world into a sustainable society? Andrew W. Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and Hiroaki Kitano, Director of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, held a discussion on technology and social values, and the role of business in shaping the future by changing technology.
Kitano: Technology changes our lives for better or for worse, and people expect a lot from technology while at the same time they fear how it may actually shape their lives and society. What is your view on the future of technology and how it will shape society?
Moore: I am an optimist about this. The human condition has been improving over the last century due to technology. We have fewer wars, less starvation, and poverty rates are decreasing. I want to see technology used to genuinely keep people safe, to protect people from criminal threats and natural disasters. Artificial intelligence should be used to see that there is less injustice and threats to people. The former Dean of Carnegie Mellon Raj Reddy once said that, in the future, he wanted to see machines be like “guardian angels,” where we all have a computer that is looking out for us and trying to make sure we are safe. Another more fun and interesting aspect is having technology help us enjoy meaningful life experiences. We may be able to use AI technology in consumer products so that eventually every person will feel like a celebrity where an entourage of smart assistants will clear the way for us and make sure we can concentrate on getting the things that we want done.
Kitano: Some companies have already started to deploy smart speakers, and eventually those systems can all become wearable and more proactively assist individuals. The AI system would need to understand the individuals’ differences and preferences, and be able to understand their intentions.
Moore: One point to note, though, is that while these personal assistant tools make us all productive, that alone should not define the future course of technological development. In fact, I hope to see the next generation of personal assistance work as a team with its human owners, helping people actually let go at times and not get us tied up to optimize every second.
Kitano: Another thing I worry about is the public perception of singularity. Whenever I give a talk about AI, I have at least one person in the audience who asks whether the future is going to be like the world of science fiction, most them scientifically unrealistic. Why are people so obsessed with this kind of view and how can we change this perception, since that is obviously not what we engineers and scholars envision in the future?
Moore: It is partly because of the use of the phrase “artificial intelligence” in science fiction. To us, it is an engineering approach that helps people remove the boring parts of their jobs, and get all the information in the right place to help people make good decisions. But I don’t blame the public for being concerned. It’s our job in the industry to be clearer about what AI really is, and what it’s not. But there are also real dangers where if someone with bad intention starts to weaponize artificial intelligence, it will be a real threat to the civilian population.
Kitano: Indeed. To address such concerns and get insights of wide range of stakeholders how to protect ourselves against the potential misuse of technology, Sony has been engaging various parties in discussions around the ethical use of AI technology. Last year we joined the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society, a non-profit organization created to contribute to solutions for some of humanity's challenging problems, including advancing the understanding of AI and addressing ethics surrounding AI technology. We also continuously have many rigorous internal discussions on this topic. I believe that it is an obligation for a modern corporation to see to it that AI and related technology be used properly with transparency and accountability.
Moore: Yes, a corporation needs internal guidelines and restrictions in place, but I also believe we have to make sure all employees are accountable to their own code of ethics. If you don’t feel comfortable with something that your manager or your business unit is asking you to do, you should speak up and take action. Does the corporate culture in Sony see to it that every individual takes responsibility for his or her ethical decisions?
Kitano: Yes, Sony obviously has all the compliance policy and programs in place, with a fully independent compliance hotline where all information provided is handled confidentially. We also want to make sure that such culture of ethics will be applicable to the discussions on how we use AI technology responsibly. I also believe that corporate codes should be reasonable and enforceable, because if you start making unrealistic demands, it will stop the business right away and people will just ignore them.
Moore: I completely agree. I think it’s important for corporations to pay more than lip service and show that they truly care by putting in place the necessary processes. So I’m really encouraged to hear that Sony is doing this.
Kitano: Moving on to a different subject, how do you think technology like AI can be used to solve global issues and address Sustainable Development Goals?
Moore: In the short term, I see technology protecting people from the effects of climate change, where AI and robotics can help predict and respond to disasters. But that is mostly about disaster mitigation, and doesn’t really help with the deeper question of how we can actually help the world get into balance again. But in the long term, as robotics progresses, I expect within my lifetime to see technologies for large robots starting major works in civil engineering, like producing barriers against the ocean, or inexpensively green our cities by adding vegetation and vertical farming.
Kitano: We’ve been talking about all the large agenda, which would shape the future of humankind, but what are your expectations for the business sector in the big picture? We see some businesses very explicitly targeting to solve global issues. Do you think this is becoming a trend among other major corporations, and if so, will they be successful?
Moore: Yes, it’s more likely that we’re going to see established companies—which are more mission-critical and have no room for trial and error, like heavy engineering or health care—begin adopting the technologies and know-how that have been pioneered by big Internet and consumer electronics companies for the purpose of solving social issues.. But they’re still going to be using development and product design methods that are suitable for their own industries. I do not expect to see tech giants just taking over one industry after another.
Kitano: Sony, like companies in many other industries, is deeply rooted in real world assets. We want to contribute to society while producing exciting products and services, and have an unusually broad portfolio of business to do so. It might be more appropriate to call us a technology-driven entertainment company.
Moore: I’ve always admired Sony and have great affection for the company. In 2010, people would go to places like Google or other search engines to find information. But demand for pure information is shrinking, and people’s interactions with computers will involve more “verbs,” where they ask questions seeking help or suggestions. For example, we may want advice about planning social experiences like where to dine for an anniversary, or a suggestion for souvenirs before heading to the airport. Sony is well-positioned in that it already has assets which are ready and able to help with these kinds of questions.
Kitano: Yes, Sony has good assets to entertain people, although we don’t have a restaurant chain yet! But we are working on cooking robotics, so we may eventually see a Sony restaurant with three-star Michelin quality food. In fact, we’re pretty excited about this gastronomy project we’re working on with you.
Moore: If this project pans out, it’s going to be quite impactful on how we experience food in the future. There are attractive individual technology components, such as those involving transportation, like the movements of pieces of food or ingredients, and those involving perception, such as being able to tell if the food is ready or not. Meanwhile, the ability to use silverware or being able to safely chop, mix and make subtle movements is going to require us to solve some currently unsolved research problems. That is a challenge, but if anyone can do it, that would be the roboticists from our two institutions.
Kitano: We have this great experience with the RoboCup competition. Technology that emerged from this challenge has been applied outside the contest’s domain, and we actually expect the same to happen in this cooking challenge. Sony alone could not achieve the entire vision that we set out, so this partnership with Carnegie Mellon is core to our challenge, but at the same time we want to be very open and involve many good partners.
Moore: I am a very strong believer that the best basic research is inspired by meaningful use cases. That is why I like the design of this kind of project with Sony. It will definitely be a challenge for us to solve frighteningly difficult technical problems. But we have a clear vision of what we want to see, so I am confident that we will come up with something that is impactful and useful, not something that will only live on paper and gather dust on a bookshelf.
Kitano: Our discussion today reconfirmed my view that using technology to change the world and contribute to society is the key factor for achieving sustainability and growth to a corporation. We will continue to collaborate and communicate with outside partners as we think over what Sony can do for society. Thank you for your time and precious input.