Techfestival Copenhagen: Will AI hack our lives in the future?

The Meatpacking District – known in Danish as Kødbyen – for several days in September hosted Techfestival, a meeting of tech great minds from around the world.

Following the very Danish yet unconventional way of doing things, the public switched easily from chewing hamburgers and Scandinavian food to chewing ideas about artificial intelligence, the future of learning, cyber security and the future of humanity.

Especially in open talks, summits and meet ups on AI, the location played a special role. The informal atmosphere and interiors of the night clubs and industrial spaces, the smell of fish, meat and the night-before parties made me feel as we were the last humans on Earth gathered in an underground resistance group. And who can blame me? With AI being all the rage these days, it’s hard to tell the difference between hype and reality.

Moral and Ethics. Nell Watson, an entreprenerd, futurist and AI technology speaker hosted  ”Machine Ethics & Moral Markets” Summit. The event was a blend of learning and sharing knowledge, meaningful discussions, and some fun and enlightening activities. The main question was if robots could or should be programmed with moral decision-making abilities, for our own safety. And could artificial intelligence have a functional morality? How would that look? Would the AI decision-making process resemble the human one or it would it be totally different, with unexpected results?  Nell Watson is also Co-Founder of OpenEth.org, an ‘ethical explication engine’ that aims to crowdsource ethical heuristics for autonomous systems. If you want to join her in creating moral and ethical machines, this might be a place to start.

Human dilemmas. If people solve the complicated machine ethical and moral questions, discussions move to a new chapter. To what extent should we use technology to solve human problems, and what could be the outcome? In other words, The AI Dilemma Games just begin.

I attended a meet-up with a panel of commentators and, the following day, attended a speech by Azeem Azhar, Entrepreneur & AI Expert on the main stage of the festival. On both occasions, the audience was engaged in providing arguments and choosing a side between the extremes of tech-cheerleaders and technophobes. In the end, the middle way (if ever achieved) could be the right way.

Here are the dilemmas:

  1. Should we design robots and AI systems that cannot be distinguished from people?
  2. If you were a patient, would you want a robot to give you a diagnosis and treatment?
  3. Should we let computers develop beyond our control?
  4. Do you want cheap goods and services or a good job?

The public voted for yes/ no answers and probably left with even more questions than they came with.

Azeem Azhar put on stage five scenarios that contained all science fiction literature plot history. Except soon it will not be fiction anymore.

Employment. Will AI create more jobs or leave us unemployed?

Wealth. Will AI generate wealth for all or just for a small part of society, throwing the rest of us into poverty?

Governance.Will the governance of the future be human-friendly or oppressive and omnipotent?

Human potential. Will AI help us develop our potential or will it eliminate any trace of creativity in us?

Human survival. Will robots conquer the world of humans and rule the world or will we find a way of working together?

Tech love and romance. As important as the above topics are for the future of humanity, two women approached one of the most sensitive. Sextech Summit dealt with technology’s role and impact on human sexuality and human connection.

Bryony Cole, the host of Future of Sex, a podcast and global event series, and Mal Harrison a clinical sexologist, digital anthropologist, and founder of the Center for Erotic Intelligence, encouraged the audience to explore, debate and imagine the future of sex.

What future may bring in our online and offline (and sex) lives? This is the question that of course, received even more questions instead of an answer.

Could we fall in love with a partner with artificial intelligence? (yeah, a robot).

If you’re in a serious relationship, is it ok to engage in advanced sex technology?

Would it be cheating if you have sex with a robot?

Human creativity and AI. I left this to the last on purpose. It is what has brought us face to face with all these new situations and dilemmas. The never-ending human quest of inventing, innovating, imagining what seems to be impossible until it is achieved. How will AI ultimately affect human creativity?

As we speak, people are building technologies that are changing our definition of creativity. Soon, a robot will write this article for me. And it will take photos. And deliver them in real time. Will I feel useless? Or just enjoy a lemonade while my assistant works? I would probably experience both, to varying degrees. One thing is certain: I will not let the article go without my final polish, additional edits about feelings, moods, people or smells. Because this is something robots cannot learn and experience.

After the summit, I talked with Ramzi Rizk, a founder and CTO of EyeEm, a photography company building the world’s leading computer vision technology to connect its global creative community of 20 million photographers with iconic brands. The company image recognition technology that keywords, captions and ranks photos based on aesthetics. In other words, ”a robot” took over all the boring and time-consuming tasks of a photographer who wants to sell his photos on the platform. In the near future, it will be even possible for the robot to act as an assistant and alert a photographer that he is at a place or event from which a photo is needed and even offer detailed guidelines of how to take the photo.

Will this suppress or boost creativity, productivity or anything else that comes to mind?

I don’t know.

The collective imagination is juggling with questions, dilemmas and scenarios of the AI future. We are feeding machines with increasing amounts of personal and sensitive information. We trust them and build new relationships with technology, not really knowing what to expect to get out of it. Will our future be a safe tech zone or will we lose it all? We should be prepared for both.

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