Who are we letting in?

The very words Artificial Intelligence make us pause. Artificial doesn’t have a good press. It makes us think of things added to our food – sweeteners and “E numbers”, of things that are fake, made up, that tell us lies.

No wonder that those working in this field prefer to stick to the acronym AI or in some cases the word “robotics” – though that too has some deep echoes from science-fiction.

The truth is that the importance of the phrase Artificial Intelligence is found in its second word not its first. Intelligence. Whose intelligence and to what end?

In our homes, we have embraced increasingly “intelligent” technology. From the early days of the self-cancelling kettle engineers and designers have strived to make the equipment of the home more responsive to our needs and to make this factor more key to our purchasing decisions.

It was great to have a fridge that did not need defrosting -but what about one that notices we are running out of milk and accesses our bank details to order in more? It was great having an app to be able to monitor our fitness by checking we did 10,000 steps every day – but what about one that checks our vital signs and suggests therapies and medications? It was great sometimes to put the kids in front of cartoons on the TV – but to have each of them cocooned in their own privately curated screen-world? Hmm. Not so sure.

Amazon has sold over 100 million “Alexa’s” and the cheaper versions are finding a place in many more of our homes.  AI, its benefits and its challenges have crept up on us. Like a guest who slowly takes over the house. We might really like our guest, but it might be useful to know where he comes from and what his plans are.

Films and novels have frequently picked up on the extreme edges of AI fears, from I, Robot to Ex Machina. We regularly see the narrative of the gentle home-robot whose systems fail and who turns into a deadly weapon. The counter top “helper” who eavesdrops and sends details of our private lives across the internet, or worse.

We are right to question the dangers of sharing too much with machines, but we are also required to use our own intelligence. We do not have to sync our whole lives to our phones. Our children will survive without Netflix and wifi.

The Home Renaissance Foundation is hosting its next Experts’ Meeting on 25th -26th February in London, to look widely and deeply at this issue. The gathered experts will discuss the opportunities the new technologies offer as well as some of the challenges they present to the homes of today and tomorrow. In all these discussions though, the importance of our own judgement, discernment and yes, intelligence, will be key.

In future articles, we look forward to sharing some of those questions and with you and to introduce you to some of the major academic contributors to this discussion, drawn from the worlds of science, economics, sociology and philosophy. Real Intelligence at work.