Sergey Nivens/

Beware AI that can exploit cognitive bias

At the moment of “Singularity” when the collective cognitive capability of AI matches, exceeds and then rapidly surpasses that of humanity itself, it may be by then too late to worry about what has been forecast as our surrender of the keys to the universe. Looking at what we have done as a species in seizing and exploiting control of the planet based upon our superior intelligence – and possibly fuelled by something of a guilty conscience – we can all too easily imagine what might occur if some other intelligent phenomenon were to emerge as not only our superior but, with an exponential capability to expand and deepen its capabilities, able to leave us in its dust. What, we might imagine, would we do with such power?

A couple of stories popped up on the social and political commentary site Salon this week, painting a pretty stark picture of the havoc that can be played with the abuse of information and communications technology in the world as it is today, without worrying about what tomorrow’s machines might get up to. It appears that people running today’s machines are wreaking worrying enough chaos as it is. “Could Google results change an election?” asks one, playing on a television fictional treatment of the political manipulation of search engine results to steal an election. On the same day, another Salon piece by the excellent Patrick L Smith “pulls back the curtain on how (American) foreign policy is created – and sold to willing media dupes.”

Human psychology has long been a staple of marketing, behavioural, and political manipulation and we are learning more and more about cognitive biases and their impact on our notions of free will and identity. Have a look at this article, and this one: their cumulative effect being that we must be wary of the idea of our brains as the rational director-generals of our waking selves. Then along comes AI, with its interests in creating algorithms that can subtly direct us in our searches for products, services, candidates and causes: and we don’t have to await the Singularity before we start worrying about the downside of a hybrid human/machine intelligence.

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