Nicole Williamson - Manifesto

1) We should restrict the development of emotional intelligence in robots and computers.

Currently, one of the most obvious distinctions between humans and artificial intelligence is the ability to experience emotion. Emotional intelligence remains decidedly human, and although robots may be able to mimic emotional responses, technology has not advanced to the point where they can successfully “feel” any convincingly human emotion. It is imperative that this does not change. The development of a thinking, feeling robot could easily result in a loss of human control over artificial intelligence. The idea of a “robot revolution” in which artificial intelligence rebukes human authority seems like a ridiculous science-fiction plot today. But what if artificial intelligence could experience feelings—rage, jealousy, or hate, for example—that could combine with other areas of high intelligence to initiate some type of mutiny? Another issue is just how “real” the emotions of artificial intelligence could become. Where could we ever draw the line between synthetic and real emotion in robots, if we have no absolute certain methods of ascertaining this? If humanity gave robots emotion and still considered them non-human machines, an incredibly ambiguous ethical dilemma could ensue. Consider the film AI (and the Brian Aldriss short story upon which it was based.) Robots were programmed to feel love and still treated as disposable mechanical devices—the pain of rejection in a robot might be technically synthetic, but does that really render it irrelevant? Researchers from Idaho National Laboratory advocate the importance of setting preventative limits, writing on their website, "We cannot shirk responsibility by calling the future inevitable. It is difficult to direct a snowball as it careens down the slope; thus, it is now - when there are only a handful of functional humanoids around the world - that we must decide the direction in which to push." Giving artificial intelligence the capacity for emotion would bring humanity to the slippery slope of playing God, and it seems deeply unethical to do so when we would be so unprepared and in disagreement about how to deal with the myriad consequences.

2) Considering the increasing ubiquity of technology in everyday life, we should make a concerted effort to emphasize physical human interaction.

The ease and accessibility of digital communication has transformed the way we interact with others—friends, family, colleagues, and strangers. While the technology is by all means efficient and convenient, we should ensure that the relevance of face-to-face interaction is not diminished. This applies both individually and collectively. Individually, this task is simple: try not to allow remote contact, through means like cell phones and online social networks, excessively supplement physical interaction. These technologies are fantastic methods of maintaining relationships from a distance, or of quickly communicating in everyday life. But physical conversation and interaction are priceless modes of communication that should remain integral to the human experience. Collectively, as larger groups or in society as a whole, we can prevent technology from overtaking closer interaction. The film Up In The Air involves a company that switches to a video communication system to lay off employees. Nixing that type of concept is an example of this collective action, since as the movie showed, this excessive use of technology to distance us from each other removes an important level of humanity from communication.

Many of our discussions have involved the ramifications of excessive use of technology as a substitute for more substantial contact. They are also outlined throughout Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Consider our generation’s growing tendency to opt for texts over phone calls, or our ability to shape our online personas into artificial impressions of our real selves. These exemplify a growing trend: technology is increasingly distancing us from reality and from each other. We should preserve the presence of more substantial interaction in our daily lives, lest we eventually lose the ability to organically, physically maintain human connections.

3) We should continue to develop or enhance technologies that enable us to communicate with others when it would not otherwise be possible.

Various situations impede our ability to communicate with the people we would like to. When things like face-to-face contact or verbal communication are not possible, technology can be invaluable in facilitating a connection. Existing examples include Skype and other video communication; they are wonderful tools for maintaining better communication than a phone call or email when at a distance. Nonverbal communication is another valuable field; we should continue to develop the ability for nonverbal humans to “speak” or otherwise communicate despite their limited means. Brian Christian experimented with remote communication with his wife through implanted electrodes in their bodies. This type of concept could transform the lives of people who can’t communicate in other ways.

This also includes concepts like understanding the brain activity of people in comas or other vegetative states. We watched a video clip in which UC Berkeley scientists captured the visual activity of people watching movies and reconstructed the activity into an image. This breakthrough could evolve into technologies that record and interpret brain activity. A greater understanding of what these people are actually capable of thinking and feeling, if it all, would be an incredible advance, and a valuable tool in making difficult medical decisions.

Although I argued that face-to-face communication is vital, in some cases it is simply impossible. Technology has already enabled us to bridge some previous gaps and forge previously unattainable connections. If it continues to develop, we could greatly improve the lives of many who currently don’t have the luxury of effective communication.

4) We should integrate technology into education as early as possible, and keep up with its advancements in curriculum.

All students should be taught to effectively use relevant technology and integrate it into their educations. New technologies will be developed and existing ones will be updated inevitably over the course of a student’s education, so schools should make every effort to keep students up-to-date with the technological world. As society relies increasingly on technology, it will be essential for students to be skilled in its use in order to be successful in their adult lives. Additionally, as Marc Prensky notes in “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” students will learn better when current technology is integrated into the curriculum than they would with more traditional education models. We have discussed the increasing competition in the workplace, against people with more advanced skills, and against technologies actually capable of replacing humans in the jobs they perform. Successfully implementing a focus on technology in education will give younger generations the chance to compete in this changing environment and be productive members of society.

5) We should seek quantifiable limits on human enhancement through technology.

In the foreseeable future, technology will likely make it possible to engineer myriad elements of a human being. Before a person is even born, his or her DNA could be engineered to select, physical and mental attributes, risk of disease, and various other aspects. We could enhance our cognitive and physical abilities with devices implanted or attached—the possibilities are seemingly endless. We already enhance ourselves with technology in many ways today, be they performance enhancing drugs or portable devices that can give us the answers we need in seconds flat. While this all might seem ideal in theory, it could easily spiral out of control with negative consequences. Controversial possibilities are plentiful and include a new movement of eugenics if we could precisely tailor future humans to eliminate “negative” aspects. Class and wealth disparity would be drastically heightened if human enhancements were restricted to only those who could afford them—and the disparity would become an institutional cycle if the wealthy were also the most intelligent and physically capable in society because of their handpicked DNA and access to other enhancing technologies.

Enhancement with technology could also lead to a blurred definition of humanity. While the concept of singularity may be a remote and disputed possibility, Verner Vinge proposed some scenarios in “Signs of Singularity” that could be plausible starting points. His IA Scenario and Biomedical Scenario—increasing human intelligence through computers or through improving neurological operation, respectively—fall in line with the advances that I’ve mentioned.

Clear, enforceable limits on the acceptable use of human enhancements would therefore be important and necessary safeguards. These limits would be extraordinarily hard to form and agree upon. It would be very difficult to draw lines, especially when many of these technologies could cure or prevent debilitating diseases and injuries. There would inevitably be proponents for extreme limitations facing off against those who see nothing wrong with using technology to benefit a person as much as possible—and between the two there would be a wide range of middle ground. It is of course also impossible to predict the exact direction that any of these technological developments will go in, and preemptively addressing theoretical issues would be difficult. But these conversations and decisions should begin now rather than years down the road when the issues have already developed and might be insurmountable. Even the broadest and most permissive limits would be preferable when one considers the chilling worst-case alternatives.

6) We should develop and enforce stricter regulations for privacy on the internet.

The internet was created and intended to be a worldwide collective body of open information. Maintaining this basic openness is imperative, and excessive censorship would only serve to impede the incredible global sharing of information. But as our personal information increasingly becomes property of the free web, we are losing the ability to control ourselves and our images. It is true that privacy is changing as a concept; information once considered private is now commonly accepted as shareable. The shift in what is regulated as private and public should of course reflect the evolution of societal norms, but this doesn’t mean that we should be stripped entirely of the right to protect our personal information. In The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser details the ways in which companies like Google and Facebook collect our information constantly, and use it for their own benefit and profit. He calls for change and greater accountability on the part of these companies, but only glances over how this could actually be accomplished. Real change would have to take place on a legislative level, as a result of focused civic activism. Campaigns for policy reforms on privacy laws should not seek to overly censor information shared on the internet, but merely to provide options for people to take advantage of in protecting basic civil liberties. For example, subscribing to a service that explicitly stated its intentions to distribute your personal information, and explicitly agreeing to this, would be acceptable. But the unauthorized leaching of information comprising a person’s identity would be illegal and enforceable. The focus should be twofold: to ensure that every individual is aware of when, how, and by who his or her information is used; and to allow an individual to opt out of sharing information that they wish to remain private.

We may value privacy differently in this era, but it still a value that matters. Actively proposing and enacting privacy regulations will ensure that even in a new age of sharing, we don’t lose authority over ourselves.