To be fair, not only humans are fools. Sometimes supposedly smart machines are also very limited, but that is due to the fault of their creators. We are still far from achieving that a machine has a general intelligence similar to human ”. This paragraph, extracted from ‘The Unpredictable’, synthesizes the critical and didactic approach that permeates each and every one of the pages of this book. Marta García Aller, its author, is a journalist, writer and teaches in several business schools, but, above all, she is a innovation expert and a deep connoisseur of technology.
His latest book exudes topicality. To prepare it, Marta has analyzed the moment we are living with the help of cosmologists, historians, technologists, doctors, entrepreneurs and other experts with an own and different perspective on the role in perpetual maturation process that technology is acquiring. She is the true protagonist of ‘The Unpredictable’, the technology, and, as the cover of the book says, everything he wants and can’t control. This is what its author has explained to us to help us identify how artificial intelligence, robotics, social media, and algorithms are shaping our lives.
Why our predictive technology has not prevented us from COVID-19
In your new book you explain in great detail that technology is a very valuable tool that can help us foresee many future events. The curious thing is that despite these advances, and despite the alerts of some epidemiologists, we have not seen the pandemic we are in coming until we had it on top. What do you think has failed?
In order to predict something we have to be able to imagine it, and COVID-19 and a forced quarantine of 3 billion people were unimaginable. The development in which the technology is currently has led us to believe that someone was already dealing with this, and it turns out not. Indeed, epidemiologists who have been warning us for years that this could happen were right. And this shows that, in reality, this was not unpredictable. Someone was anticipating it, but those who were unable to do so were the authorities. In some ways it has been a technological disappointment to discover that there is no sophisticated computer system that alerts us and prevents something like this from happening.
It is not really a technology problem. It is a world-wide problem because we are not sufficiently well coordinated between countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has no real de facto power to coordinate measures at the global level. I think the pandemic is accelerating many technological trends, but it is also exposing where the great shortcomings of the moment are. It has focused on all those aspects that are not resolved and that have exposed many vulnerabilities.
So do you think we have learned the lesson? Are we still not confident enough in the predictive technologies that we have developed ourselves?
Something we have learned, without a doubt. All countries, and especially Europeans, are developing coordination mechanisms to have a stock of sanitary material that can help us if regrowths occur. We are preparing to repeat what we have already experienced, but there are many other types of pandemic and other catastrophes for which we are not preparing, and experts in these fields are warning us that we can take risks. There are risks associated with artificial intelligence, nuclear energy, biotechnology …
“We are preparing to repeat what we have already experienced, but there are many other types of pandemic and other catastrophes for which we are not preparing, and experts in these fields are warning us that we can take risks”
We have never had a technology as powerful as today, and, logically, along with the incredible advances it puts in our hands, it also brings risks, but there is no parallel global governance and public debate on the prevention of these risks. There is too much skepticism about the threat they pose, just as there is a reluctance to take climate change seriously, incredible as it may seem, with all the evidence there is. It is clear that to be able to prepare for a risk it is not enough that technology is capable of anticipating it; it also has to be something we know and something we can imagine. Otherwise it is much easier to ignore the risk warnings that are unfamiliar to us.
So our most valuable tool to be able to foresee the future is to analyze what has happened to us in the past?
Yes, and when something happens that has never happened before, we cannot follow learned patterns. We have to give it imagination. The future is not only achieved with science and technology; also with the imagination. We have to be able to imagine both the good things that we want to happen and the catastrophic things that we want to avoid. We have a psychological inertia to take normality for granted. This is why imagination is so important; approach technology with a humanistic component that thinks, as Anglo-Saxons say, “out of the box”, and allows us both to develop mechanisms to prevent the risks that can happen to us and to imagine what can happen to us. In fact, at Interpol there is a division that is dedicated exclusively to imagining things that bad people can do because to anticipate risks you have to be able to imagine them.
In your book you explain that analysis by big data is opening the door to personalized pharmacology that can have a profound impact on medicine. Beyond this good news, what can technology do for us to help us overcome the challenge of the current global pandemic and others that are likely to come in the future?
In the most immediate part we have applications that can help us prevent infections. Who would have told us that in the 21st century, in the era of robotization, we were going to be forced to shut ourselves up at home to stop the spread of a virus with a low mortality rate because we were unable to control it in any other way. After all, quarantines are a medieval invention. We have technologies that allow us to do incredible things and even today there is a lot of reluctance to all contagion control apps that allow us to do selective confinements if regrowths occur. Everything new generates mistrust, and after all this is a human factor that algorithms cannot understand. A machine would not understand why once we have the perfect algorithm we ignore it.
Predictive algorithms are already making a difference
Can you tell us about a predictive algorithm that you know is currently being used and with which we are obtaining good results?
In medicine, very sophisticated systems are being used to predict what type of treatment can be most effective in the fight against cancer and how a particular medication or type of radiation can affect a person. We have systems capable of processing millions of data that help us reduce the risk of error that always exists. This technology is saving many lives. Of all the predictive systems that we can imagine, those that are used directly to save lives are the ones that we should keep in mind.
“In medicine, very sophisticated systems are being used to predict what type of treatment may be most effective in the fight against cancer and how a particular medication or type of radiation may affect a person”
They are also used for more mundane things, such as calculating how many minutes it will take me to reach my destination if I am driving or walking. The fact that we have in our pocket a tool that allows us to trace exactly what is the shortest path and how many minutes we are going to take, calculating everything in real time, is something that we have become accustomed to living with, but it only makes one decade would have seemed like science fiction. This technology does not generate stupefaction because we have it perfectly assimilated, but these algorithms are extraordinary and we should value them.
Where is the limit of the current predictive capacity of technology? What phenomena are so unpredictable that at the moment our algorithms are unable to analyze them to predict how they will evolve?
This was exactly the question I asked myself to write ‘The Unpredictable’. I think it is the central question of this century because we often face robotization and automation as a problem, when in fact I think it is the solution to many of the challenges that lie ahead to make many processes more efficient, cheap and accessible. Everything that is a routine will sooner or later be automated, and a routine is that which is predictable by nature. We can hardly automate what we cannot foresee.
“Humans will have to continue monitoring each and every step of the process that is unpredictable. That is where the tasks that we are going to deal with throughout the 21st century are going to be »
Humans will have to continue monitoring each and every step of the process that is unpredictable. That is where the tasks that we are going to deal with throughout the 21st century are going to be. The sense of humor, which for me is the paradigm of the unpredictable; everything that has to do with health and that is beyond what genetics can predict, or moral issues are some of the things that cannot be calculated by a machine. Furthermore, nature behaves in a chaotic way, which prevents us from having all the data necessary to describe natural phenomena and leaves an important space for what mathematicians call chance.
From science fiction to social media
Literature and cinema have long flirted with the possibility that technology allows us to overcome the barrier of time. Isaac Asimov imagines in his ‘Foundation’ saga a science capable of predicting the future with great precision, psychohistory, and in the recent ‘Devs’ series, quantum computing becomes a tool that allows us to look into the remote past. Could you tell us about a novel or movie that you especially like because of the rigor with which it describes the technological advances that are to come in artificial intelligence or robotics?
I saw ‘Devs’ during confinement. I really liked it and I was angry to have finished the book shortly before because this series represents the search for how to make predictable everything that can happen to us. All artificial intelligence experts who develop forecasting systems fantasize about having all the data. And once they have them they can predict everything. That is their approach. This approach is currently being used to develop very interesting systems capable of predicting coronavirus outbreaks through tweet analysis using artificial intelligence. This is why I like ‘Devs’ because, although it is a bombastic approach to the machine that can do everything, in reality we are already living it on a small scale: we try to predict the future from a data analysis. accurate.
If we go to more classic films, I really like ‘Minority Report’ because, although it is almost 20 years old, it raises, among other things, programmatic advertising, which is now something we consider normal. It was an important exercise in futurism because Steven Spielberg brought together several of the best experts of that time to try to visualize the world in 20 or 30 years. And in a way they succeed in many things. What I like most about this movie are its failures because they allow us to appreciate the merit of its successes. The character played by Tom Cruise searches for the videos he needs to reconstruct the crimes on methacrylate floppy disks, which takes us back to the time the film was filmed, a time when the Cloud did not exist as we know it. today.
I propose that we change the third. Social networks put users’ ability to communicate on a massive scale, but they are controlled by large corporations. Are they a double-edged sword? Who really has the power?
The power right now is held by the merchants of the attention, which is the resource that the big companies are competing to develop algorithms capable of predicting our tastes. And they want to predict our tastes to capture our attention more time. The more minutes we spend using your services, the more your advertising revenue increases. The algorithms of social networks do not work for us; They work to make the companies that govern them profitable. This is where the ability to avoid falling into the hamster wheel that is the scroll permanent display.
“Power right now is held by merchants of attention, which is the resource that large companies are competing to develop algorithms capable of predicting our tastes”
The days have the hours they have, and the more hours we give to the screens without a personal benefit, the more money we are making others earn at the cost of the loss of our time. We are giving away more time in our lives to machinery designed not to give us satisfaction, but to attract our attention. Yes, it is a double-edged sword. The dopamine that our brain secretes every time we get a like It is designed to hook us. That is why I dedicate an entire chapter to impatience, which seems to me the essence of what makes us predictable. The more predictable we are, the easier it is for the machine to know what it has to give us to keep us hooked.
In today’s society, it seems essential to foster individual critical thinking so that each of us can find valuable information in the data universe to which we all have access. What tools do you think are necessary to protect this critical capacity?
I think that we should not underestimate our growing tendency to distraction to begin with. This is a problem. Dispersion is incompatible with critical thinking, and the problem is not how to read more or less, but how many interruptions we have. Those constant interruptions harm us when they reach our screens. We should not lose that cognitive patience. It doesn’t matter if we read on a screen or on paper; We have invested a lot of time in this discussion, and it is of no importance. The question is why we allow companies that develop alert systems to capture our attention when we move away from the mobile or the computer for a while to prevent us from concentrating on anything.
Concentration is not only important in the workplace; You can also be focused on a conversation with friends or on a movie. We must vindicate the ability to concentrate because as we lose it we will become predictable. The person who is aware of how many likes, emails or interactions you receive on Twitter is the most easily bored, and that aversion to boredom makes us never rest our minds. And it’s a problem because in creative thinking the new things that we can think of, the most unpredictable, need a brain that is capable of disconnecting.
Many of the digital services we all use on a daily basis are not actually free. Users pay with personal information; We sacrifice a part of our privacy in order to use them. What do you think about this business model and what advice would you give users so that we know what to expect without having to read the fine print?
Artificial intelligence has not yet unleashed its full potential
Little by little, users are getting used to having some devices with some intelligence and mechanical skills at home, but they are nothing like the robots we see in the movies. Do we have to settle for now with our vacuum robots? Are such advanced machines still far away?
We have a curious fascination with robots that look like humans, with anthropomorphic robots, when in fact we are capable of bringing to life anything we put a pair of eyes on. The effort to make machines look like humans is a psychological thing and has nothing to do with the sophistication of the artificial intelligence behind it. It is perhaps a fascination more literary than technological. In the book I interview Sophia, a robot that resembles a young woman, and the truth is that at first it has a certain attraction to take a selfie with a robot, but the conversation is not more interesting than what we can have with Siri or Alexa.
“Robots are changing our lives, and they are changing our lives now. They are invisible because they are behind the processes that make it possible for us to order something on the Internet and in a few hours we will have it at home »
I think the robots that are changing our lives, and are changing them for us, are invisible because they are behind the processes that make it possible for us to order something on the Internet and in a few hours we have it at home. They are changing the industrial scene at an astonishing speed. Then there is also a generation of social robotics that is already here, and I think that with the COVID-19 it will accelerate a lot, which are the companion robots for the elderly and those who can help in the healthcare system. In Japan they are much more widespread than in Europe because here we have a certain prejudice at the idea that robots can lend a hand in caring for people, but when we have seen the health system completely overwhelmed, the priorities have been reversed and the Union European has begun to promote projects that promote social robotics.
Do you think it is all. There are already some companies that with little scientific basis all
Sophia photography | ITU Pictures