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Artificial intelligence. Cingolani (IIT), robotics is mankind’s ally in the development of a more sustainable world, but humanism and technology must follow the same pace

Technology will never be able to provide an “intelligent” machine with human self-consciousness and emotions. Artificial intelligence and robotics will increase our planet’s sustainability for the future, but this requires the creation of an ethical-juridical framework with the contribution of philosophers and theologians. Man must be at the centre, and nobody should be left behind

Drones, robotics, 3D printing; logistics, building and biotechnology; diagnostics, high-precision robotic surgery along with physical rehabilitation with wearable exoskeletons. These are the main fields of application – and the undeniable benefits – of artificial intelligence (AI), employed also by Google and Tesla self-driving cars. Fascinating horizons lie ahead, amidst concerns, prejudice and fake news. Roberto Cingolani, serving as Scientific Director of the Istituto italiano di tecnologia (IIT) – at the forefront of global AI and robotics – since 2005, said in clear terms: “No to demonization. All technological developments are neutral per se, but they can become harmful in the hands of a fool.” He reassured: “no technology could ever provide an “intelligent” machine with human self-consciousness and emotions – reiterated the director of the Institute with headquarters in Genoa, the city where iCub – the current standard of reference of humanoid robots – was developed -. Let us leave these predictions to creative literature and to science-fiction movies.”

Professor, where do these fears stem from? They don’t stem from technology per se but from the rapid pace of their evolution. AI is the result of increasingly high-performance computing machines that carry out billions of operations per second. It’s linked to the concept of algorithm. The complexity of algorithms produces more or less developed forms of artificial intelligence. Thanks to highly-accurate mathematical models that map reality these machines can rapidly calculate the development of an event laying out all possible scenarios; forecasts are thus the result of interpreting the development of a given phenomenon in real time. Unlike what happened in the past with steam engines or telephones, today technological revolution is evolving at an increasingly faster pace: from inter-generational to intra-generational. This hyper-acceleration hinders the accurate processing of results and thus AI applications risk ending up in the hands of amateurs that could use them in the wrong way.

According to the findings of a research on the future of professions presented at the World Economic Forum, in the coming years artificial intelligence and robotics will create new jobs but they will replace an even greater number of them. There will always be a negative balance … It has always happened: automation decreases the number of repetitive jobs, but it also creates new professional profiles and new areas of production. Greater investments should be made in the area of education, starting with primary school. Innovation is part of our daily life, but the rate of adaptation should be high and formation should be “ongoing” to prevent gaps between “first-class” and “second-class” citizens.

Are there other risks?
Privacy: it is necessary to ensure accurate protection of sensitive data, such as health data. Rules are needed, but the reflection must go further.

In what way?
We should reflect on the development model we aim to achieve, along with its sustainability. Growth is not confined to GDP growth, regardless of costs: it is necessary to measure the impact on mankind and the impact of human activities on the environment in terms of waste production, water and energy consumption, CO2 emissions. We only have one planet and we’re “consuming” it.

Robotics and automation should be employed to promote sustainable growth within an intelligent, circular economic model, optimising processes with positive, long-term impacts on everyone.

For example, with intelligent machines capable of producing whilst decreasing water consumption by 50%. Decreased growth that reduces the impact on the economic system ultimately corresponds to more growth. In the face of fast-paced global transformations, interdisciplinary reflections should focus on delineating the horizon of science whereby technological development is centred on enhanced environmental, ethical, social and anthropological sustainability.

Who should be part of this working group? 
Scientists, IT experts, politicians, and entrepreneurs, along with scholars in human sciences, moral philosophers and theologians, and educators: those tasked with forming the next generations.

In his spiritual will Steve Jobs emphasized the intersection of “sciences and humanities”…
There is need for a global vision and for humility. Each one of us needs the other figure, if not, we will continue observing each other through the lenses of our personal viewpoint obtaining but a glimpse of the whole picture.

The gist of the matter is artificial intelligence and robotics – body and mind that give shape to intelligent technology – allies of human beings for sustainable development where man is always at the centre and nobody is left behind.

Man, in fact. Do you think that a robot could exceed and thus replace human intelligence? In line of principle risk assessment is mandatory, envisaging the worst-case scenario so as to be prepared to face whichever risks may arise. But it’s hard to imaging artificial intelligence exceeding human performance. Rather than artificial intelligence, what worries me is natural stupidity. To stop a machine all you need to do is to push a button. This is much harder to do with those in charge of triggering nuclear weapons. Having said this, robots take decisions on the basis of an algorithm and on the calculation of probabilities, but they will never possess the complex biochemical process that governs our emotions, our creativity and our unpredictability. Our “weaknesses” make us superior, creative, brilliant.

Technological advancement progresses at a faster pace than ethical reflection and legislation… 
It does. And it must continue to advance, at an even faster pace if possible, but within an ethical-anthropological-juridical-cultural framework that needs to be defined. Technical and scientific skills are not enough. We need the contribution of humanistic thought. We must step up the humanistic, ethical, political and anthropological formation of the society that uses and develops this technology.

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