On May 30th, 2022, Professor Aditya Johri delivered an exciting presentation on AI, ethics, and human cognition, detailing the emerging role of AI in society today, its ethical dilemmas, and how to approach them.

The presentation started with the main concerns surrounding AI, such as the lack of explainability or transparency, threats to personal privacy, and job automation. However, Professor Johri demonstrates that machines have alerted us to the possibility of augmenting our functioning by using external objects. This has been a trend since the start of human evolution. Humans have created and used tools for survival, symbolic systems to communicate with each other, and cognitive artifacts, which have offloaded some daily functions to tools. AI-driven augmentation is now the next stage, by utilizing various data and algorithms to create new data and algorithms that go beyond replacing human cognition.

What differentiates AI from other technologies is that it is one of the first that models society and the socio-cultural milieu. These computing models shift the locus of decision-making and responsibility to other AI systems and artifacts and, in turn, aid in interdisciplinary collaboration of various subjects and mechanisms. The reality is that the majority of ethical problems linked to AI remain even without it, thus underlining the importance of elaborating on the overall values of society.

Professor Johri outlined the different attributes of AI in this presentation: AI can be perceived as a metaphor, as it is a technology that not everyone understands. Since humans use metaphors to explain something abstract, they form mental models shaped by symbolic metaphors, which can thus influence our perceived reality and bring out misconceptions. Moreover, AI can be seen as something that conceals and complicates existing situations or mechanisms. Although it has been presented as a solution, AI has increased interlinkages and relations, making it less linear and more complex to perceive changes. It can be viewed as a consolidator, a socio-material embedded infrastructure, and a social magnifier. The evolution of AI put a lens on the functions of society and its problems in an unprecedented manner. It has given us not only the possibility to analyze the existing problems but create tools to address them.

A remaining significant challenge is to create critical AI literacy. Human cognition is different, as we can imagine and design possible futures. We are highly programmable, embodied, and emotional. Machines, on the other hand, only live in their programmed world. To change how we interact with AI, we must develop critical engagement by emphasizing its power to change our relationship with it. Society can implement this by integrating an understanding of AI and technology into early education, redefining and creating trustworthy institutions responsible for AI, and taking advantage of all informal resources (i.e. the internet). This would foster a sense of transparency and trust within society and its behavior toward AI. Thank you to our visiting professor, Aditya Johri for his interesting thoughts on this topic!