We all accept that change is inevitable. Moreover, anyone who denies that will be left behind!
We are all acutely aware of how quickly Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is becoming embedded in our everyday lives whilst also becoming increasingly sophisticated. AI undoubtedly captures our imaginations but we’ve arguably ‘only scratched the surface’ in it’s potential use and application.
Technological advancements such as smartphones, tablets, GPS systems, robots and automation, have radically affected our daily lives and, inevitably, how we interact – physically and (nowadays) virtually. Nevertheless, there are still those among us who refuse to evolve. They hide their heads in the sand and are missing the revolution that is modernising our world.
Evolutionary versus Revolutionary Change
Historically, change was a matter of of political turmoil and/or religious conversion.
Change can come in many ways – sometime in the normal flow of evolution, other times as a radical revolution. In all cases, our society is continuously morphing. In the world of business and commerce, competitors rise and fall, fashion changes, technologies emerge and become obsolete, laws and taxes are modified. Successful corporations must follow the trends and be agile or face closure.
While there are many characteristics that unite us, change is the one area where I see the greatest differences between us.
On the one hand, there are those who prefer a slower more evolutionary approach to change. They are happy to take calculated incremental steps towards change.
And, on the other hand, there are those who prefer a more revolutionary approach. These are the ones who are ready to run with the latest technology and be at the front of the line. Change for them is always moving forward. Making adjustments. Getting better all the time.
We need to create an integrated model of social evolution and revolution, one that accounts for the complexity, inconclusiveness, and impediments of our society.
We need to develop constructs, laws, policies, and so on that uphold “Societal AI” (Copyright, 2021) – not only in terms of the capabilities of AI technology but more importantly what we are doing with it; potentially meshed with the behaviours, attitudes, intentions, feelings, personalities and expectations of people.
“Societal AI” is about incorporating human-centred perspectives and humane requirements (including constraints) when designing AI algorithms, agents and systems.
At the same time, we cannot afford to leave important decisions to ‘FATE’ i.e. principles that affect Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics to businesses, governments and policy writers. Instead, as citizens, we must influence how AI is leveraged to help shape and influence “AI for Social Good” – for the benefit of society.
This multi-dimensional approach recognises that change is always saturated in conflict. Major changes are rarely initiated by conscious decisions that are automatically implemented; power and morality generally control the direction that significant changes to our social norms might take.
Every person’s primary socialisation was received in childhood and is simply one part of a lifelong socialisation process. Adults go through a process of “Resocialisation”, which is the learning of new norms and values that occurs when they join a new group or when life circumstances change dramatically. Learning new norms and values enables people to adapt, though newly learned things may contradict what was previously learned.
Most instances of resocialisation are mild modifications, such as adapting to a new work environment. Extreme forms of the process can include joining the military, going to prison, or otherwise separating from mainstream society.
We human beings are hierarchical animals. Always and everywhere, we have ranked ourselves in comparison with others of our species. The sorts of hierarchies different societies have constructed vary widely.
While many contemporary social scientists seem to believe that equality is our default status, all societies, ranging from hunter-gatherer communities to modern techno-consumer based civilisations, have sorted people by their relative power.
We assume the root cause of inequality (structural and otherwise) lies in the extraordinary selfishness of a small number of oppressors need to provide evidence of their unique egoism. However, in today’s age, especially with the rise of social media (think TIK TOK, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) powered by the mobile internet, all of us seek to be winners. And all of us hate being losers. Yet if some of us are to win, others of us must lose.
Structural inequality differs from individual forms of inequality. That’s where racism and sexism are exhibited by individual behaviour. Many people think that all inequality is due to personal biases that can be overcome individually. They believe that inequality would disappear if people “just stood up for themselves,” or if others stopped oppressing them.
Structural inequality occurs even in a free market economy because of the laws and policies that form it. Those laws regulate government contracts, bankruptcy, and property ownership. They create advantages for some and disadvantages for others. When the laws work against specific groups, inequality becomes part of the structure of the market.
The solution to structural inequality must address the structure that created it. A much bigger challenge than we might care to admit.
Human hierarchies are challenged by the size of our communities and the complexity of our interpersonal activities. The ways that people dress, talk, and conduct themselves are all used to provide evidence of relative power. So are the houses in which they live, the cars they drive, and the jobs they do. This, however, leaves considerable room for deception and manipulation.
Additionally, we humans do not merely test ourselves against individual others. We also recruit allies with whom to engage in tests against similar collections of collaborators. So important is this tendency to gather and deploy assemblages of associates that we have a name for it. We call it “politics”.
Most of us consequently acquire statuses that depend upon our standing within groups, as well as from their standing compared with competing groups. The president of the United States is accordingly reckoned to be very powerful (arguably, the most powerful), even though he/she may be physically unimpressive (I’ll leave your imagination to wonder at this point.. given what’s happening in the world right now!).
Who gets to be on top (or the bottom) and how they get there can change. So can the distance from the apex to the sub-basement and the opportunities for social mobility. These are not constants-although the existence of inequality is.
If this is true, then there are limitations on the sorts of reform that are feasible. Simply transferring resources from one group of people to another will not, of itself, eliminate differences in rank. Because hierarchical standing is comparative, people are generally aware of their inferiority or superiority relative to those against whom they measure themselves. Simply building up their egos or bank accounts may not erase disparities in power-if these exist.
Most businesses, institutions and government organisations are constructed in accordance with a particular hierarchical format. They are bureaucratic and hence they incorporate “hierarchies of authority”. Part of what gives such arrangements their stability and precision is that they delegate power in conjunction with role responsibilities. This makes them less arbitrary and more conflict-free than their precursors. While they may be rigid, they are also capable of complexity and sophistication.
Less well appreciated, but growing in significance, are organisations grounded in professionalised authority. Here the comparative power of individuals depends more on their technical expertise and degree of self-motivation. In traditional bureaucracies, bosses make decisions that are imposed on subordinates. In many of today’s modern technology centred organisations, professionals are delegated control of their work product because they can be trusted to exercise competence. This makes these structures less coercive, although it does not eliminate inequalities.
The bottom line is that if human societies are to be modified in directions more people find fulfilling, this can only occur if the nature of human hierarchies is acknowledged and understood.
If we apply the same thinking to the role (and opportunity) of “AI in Society”, then a paradigm shift, not a classical revolution, is in our future.
This means we need to challenge the status quo that includes historical constructs, social hierarchies and bureaucracies. We need to start re-imagining our collective future.
The question we should all ask ourselves is which advances using AI should we seek? Can laypersons or social experts truly foresee the future? How well do they actually understand the potential of AI – both to be a potential force for good and/or bad?
Social changes are disorienting. Consequently, their ‘hows’, ‘whys’, and ‘wherefores’, deserve to be investigated. Moreover, we need to somehow do this dispassionately and with neutrality. We need to separate our egos from our intellectual pursuits. In all events, we need to understand what are the consequences for us – individual citizens (people) as well as our wider communities and society.
Lastly, for AI to serve society as an enabler and facilitator for “social good” that benefits all people (i.e. citizens) across all parts of society, we need to reflect on what #newnormal – the post COVID19 world – will (should?) really look like.
About the Author #aboutme
Over the past 25 years, Salim has built a career in consulting, working both client and supplier side as an interim CIO/CTO and a Business Change / Transformation Consultant.
Salim has engaged in, and led, digital and technology transformations and programmes involving rescue & recovery (“turnaround”), process optimisation & improvement and organisational change — globally across the UK, Central Europe, Nordics, Turkey, UAE, US, Asia and Australia.
Salim is an Oxford University alumni and an author in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Key interests include the role of AI for the betterment of people and society.
Checkout Salim’s latest book –
“Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence and Its Future Social Impact”
(1) https://lnkd.in/gbk-zba (Amazon)
(2) https://bit.ly/34cfJVf (IGI Global)
This work has been endorsed by academia and industry thought leaders (https://lnkd.in/dWHBXBE).