AI in Society: Narrowing the Gap Between Man and Machine

At this point, you’ve met a chatbot. Did they answer your questions sufficiently? You’ve probably filled out a survey, and I’ll bet there wasn’t a question on there asking if you wished the exchange was with a human. Whether we like it or not, more and more interactions are going to be happening with artificial intelligence (AI), and many times we won’t be able to tell the difference. Anything is better than navigating through a ‘Press 1’ or a ‘Press 2 ’ phone menu, right?

Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more accustomed to this kind of technology by it being virtually handed to us. You’ve probably noticed it in your email with smart suggestions: something like Cool, thanks! which gives the illusion of humanity through algorithmic informality.

Speaking of Google, last year they announced developments to their Virtual Assistant; an AI that is teaching itself to speak on its own. In theory, these developments will drive efficiency and help reduce some of the more mundane tasks; however, there is no legislation at present that would require an AI to announce itself as such. In this demonstration, it is hardly recognizable that the voice on the phone is not human.

In tandem with developments in voice AI, companies have begun to create full-body synthetic humans. Right now they are being used for seemingly harmless tasks like modeling clothes, but the technology is rapidly progressing.

Innovations in AI continue to focus on ease and efficiency, and many times that means displacing the human component completely. The next phase in AI customer experience development is through something called AI-Powered Digital Humans, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – synthetic people. Through state-of-the-art animation and rapidly improving voice generation AI, these new customer service titans boast much cheaper and more efficient interactions, without all of the headaches of dealing with a real person.

A Japanese skincare brand, SK-II, recently unveiled its new brand ambassador and customer service assistant, Yumi. Yumi is a fully synthetic, AI-powered skincare advocate that will help with your skincare routine through customer service channels and general advertising. She is modeled off an existing person, however, the tech gives her a life and mind of her own. One can only imagine the ways in which this could impact current social movements such as body positivity, not to mention the increasing psychological effects of constant filters and image alteration. The company behind Yumi is called Soul Machines and they advertise Digitized DNA that will essentially bring machines to life. There are other companies that occupy this space, selling dramatically updated versions of Microsoft’s Clippy.

They have also seeped into the hyper-profitable influencer world. There are a series of suspects: Shudu, the world’s first virtual supermodel; Blawko and his girlfriend Bermuda; Influencer and Musician, Lil Miquela and Liam Nikuro, fashionista and influencer

On a more sinister note, one app received media attention, and after failing, distributed itself onto GitHub, an open source code platform where anyone can gain access to the technology. The app, known as DeepNude, enabled the user to remove the clothing in an image with the click of a button by using predictive AI to generate a realistic and fairly accurate human body.

AI has also been developed that can, fairly artfully, construct original poetry. Is it possible that we could live in a world where streaming companies like Spotify use algorithms to write and record the top hits of today? Some of this technological advancement is undoubtedly showing off. A mere performance by the creators saying ‘hey, we are pretty good at replicating human activity’ but, for better or for worse, it’s causing us to question more foundational elements of the distinction between man and machine; not to mention, the role of humans in the modern age.

The future of work is undeniably changing. When used for the right purposes, AI can make life more efficient and, arguably, better — but we must be on the front end of displacement and learn the skills necessary to maximize collaboration with the tech. How can we better set up our governing bodies to ensure that this tech doesn’t get into the wrong hands? These developments will be important to keep an eye on as the gap between the real and the virtual continues to narrow. Spaces like the classroom are (and will continue to be) an invaluable home base for guidance, discernment and comfort.

This is the fourth post in a series on Digital Discernment: a #FutureofWork Series on Teaching and Leading in the Age of AI. For other articles in the series, see:

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Mason Pashia

Mason is the Creative Manager at Getting Smart. He is an advocate for arts education, strategy, design thinking and poetry.

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