September 26, 2017

Following the 2017 IEEE Sections Congress, IEEE Senior Member Tom Coughlin shared highlights from the keynote address of Dr. Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist for the Australian government, and an IEEE Fellow.

Finkel’s keynote addressed artificial intelligence, including a conversation about what humans can do to prepare for a world where artificial intelligence is par for the course. Finkel offered three key pieces of advice for the audience:

  • Skill Up, Don’t Dumb Down: We should resist the temptation to let humans dumb down. “There is the argument that we don’t need advanced maths and science in schools. And there’s the suggestion that you don’t actually need to learn a discipline, or any hard content, because all the information you could ever need is available on line. And Siri or Alexa can find it on your behalf. I strongly disagree. The evidence suggests that workers will need to make their niche in a fluid and unpredictable environment. That suggests to me that we need to be more capable — not less. So we have to grab them young and keep them going. Then they can enter the artificial intelligence age with the capacity to hold their own. So skill up, don’t dumb down.”
  • Improve Fluency in Human: “The essence of engineering is people: it is the capacity to design around our human limitations so that we, as a species, can transcend them. It takes a grasp of how humans behave — and an understanding of what humans want. We call that empathy. It’s the difference between the engineer who designs a product, and the engineer who delivers a solution. We don’t teach our students a formula for empathy. We haven’t got one. My alternative is to advise them with a single word: respect. Respect the intelligence of your audience. Respect their right to participate in the debate. And respect your rights and responsibilities as an expert — someone worthy of trust.”
  • Embrace and Guide Thoughtful Regulation: “What we need is effective regulation to give our society the confidence to experiment. Effective regulation sets the rules that allow you to contribute to our human future. So, let’s be proactive in making the case.  The IEEE gets it. It’s the essence of the IEEE Global Initiative launched last year for Ethically Aligned Design. How often do you come across a paper from the tech community that begins with a statement like this: human well-being is the highest virtue for a society, and human flourishing begins with conscious contemplation. It goes on: Our mission is to ensure every technologist is educated, trained, and empowered to prioritise ethical considerations in the design and development of autonomous and intelligent systems. That is the tech community I recognise: a community of intelligent and articulate people, with a genuine desire to make the world a better place.”

Written by: Tom Coughlin, IEEE Senior Member


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