Relationships: Why Stories Beat AI
Updated: Sep 2, 2018
Powerful stories inspire people, who create more stories. Pain, evolving relationships, affections, loyalties, ambitions; these are not the arenas for Artificial Intelligence.
I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and I reference this genre as a kick-off point for the science of artificial intelligence. After all, to create something, first we have to imagine it. Powerful stories inspire people, who create more stories, which is one of many compelling reasons why people need people. This is not another article resisting developments in AI, rather drawing a rough sketch of its limitations and its place in our future. Here, I’m defining a story as a perspective shared by a human, creating a bond in the space when it is understood by another human; the story may be fictional or a faithful account of events. Stories present pain, evolving relationships, affections, loyalties, ambitions; these are not the arenas for AI, at least nowhere near in our present accomplishments in that field.
“I’m defining a story as a perspective shared by a human, creating a bond in the space when it is understood by another human”
First, let’s clarify that we are talking about AI, not robotics, although recent developments in robotics have accelerated over the last couple of years and are impressive. Robot designs now apply to search-and-rescue, protecting coral reefs, blind navigation and a myriad other complex tasks. Artificial intelligence sometimes overlaps with robotics, if AI is used to control the robot (referred to as autonomous robots), and here we find the sore spot and the growing concerns about artificial intelligence impact on humans. Presently, we are a long way from machines achieving consciousness, although to many, science appears to be taking large strides in that general direction.
AI has its place in our future, and I don’t mean a killer robot dystopia. In fact, the Global Council on Extended Intelligence pushes forward on the idea of extended intelligence helping humanity flourish, redefining prosperity and protecting digital identity to maintain free and open society. The Technical Committee on Robot Ethics is working on how to identify and address ethical matters related to robotic developments, with special focus on autonomous systems. I look forward to the new tools and technology that tech humans provide all us other humans.
In the meantime, we don’t need to be AI and robotics experts to understand that technology is light years from providing human compassion and connection. We humans do delight in AI most when the technology mimics human interaction, as evidenced by Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant. Recent developments in machine learning means AI can use data to recognize faces, but can it initiate a real relationship? AI examines mass information to predict and track employees’ behavior at the workplace – but can it relate to these employees, address their concerns and inspire them to better performance? AI can predict eye diseases or cancer but can it comfort the patient when they deal with their diagnosis?
I’d like to add to this list and say that AI cannot create stories (as defined above), and people love stories. Stories are the first love for many of us, from books and films. The staple diet of words and images feeds the earnest imagination. I have been reading fiction since my pudgy little toddler fingers could manage it. I don’t have a definitive memory of one particular story that inspired me. Rather, after an exponentially increasing volume of pages I devoured, I have the solid certainty in authors’ skill of creating worlds, inviting others in, and doing it over and over. People will assign importance to whatever solicits an emotional spark, reaction, attachment. So, it is real. We venture into philosophical territory here, but the theory states that no one knows true reality, only their perception of it — and perceptions exist in the mind and heart.
How much easier is it to teach something with a story? Heck, even algebra tells you some guy named Michael has 143 oranges and wants to sell, give or eat them. Right away, we have a human we can focus on. We can understand a journey of a person starting at one particular point and then sometime later, they emerge at another point. The best stories tell us interesting events between these reference points, and all about the person and their world, including what they think, feel and say to others. They teach us about others and in doing so, help us learn about ourselves.
Stories are about us, even without humans in the story. It is enough that the narrator makes observations, and we will make our own conclusions about that perspective of the narrator or author. Human relationships are unavoidable in stories, which cut across the artificial boundaries we have manufactured and remind us how alike we are, so we hopefully enjoy each other’s differences.
So, yeah, bring on the smart robots, home systems, and technological advancements. I’m not worried they will replace humans and their stories anytime soon.