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  • Writer's pictureBeyond Team

Balancing AI Advancements with Human Needs

Updated: Jul 10




I know I’m a bit late to the party, as what I’m going to talk about happened a while back in January.


But in truth I don’t often pay much attention to what goes on in Davos these days.


I remember years ago when it was less of a publicity show for large corporates and more about serious-minded, well-intentioned leaders gathering together to discuss ways to have real impact in the world.


Call me a cynic, but today, it feels like there’s too many cameras and after parties, that to mere mortals like myself make it look like just another conference or jolly to be seen at.


So I was surprised and delighted when I came across the discussion between OpenAI Chief Sam Altman and musician-activist Will.i.am at this years World Economic Forum.


These discussions, taking place on the sidelines of the annual meeting, highlighted two distinct visions and opinions of the future of artificial intelligence (AI).


While Altman extolled the potential benefits of AI, Will.i.am underscored the critical need for taking stock and looking at the human factors as we debate how to advance forwards.


I feel these two perspectives provide a really relevant backdrop for understanding the future direction of AI and its impact on society and ourselves as individuals.


I’ll do my best to summarise the two points of view:


Sam Altman's Vision

Sam Altman presented his optimistic outlook on the future of AI.


He talked about how the key to long-term, sustainable prosperity is technological and scientific progress, particularly in the realms of intelligence and energy.


HIs argument is all about how reducing the cost and increasing the capability of cognitive services (artificial intelligence) could revolutionise education, healthcare, productivity, and creativity.


He painted a picture a world where every child receives a personalised education, healthcare is vastly improved with new drug discoveries, and people achieve unprecedented levels of productivity and creativity.


For Sam, this vision underscores what he believes is the transformative potential of AI technologies when applied thoughtfully and inclusively.


Here is a transcript of what he said taken from article written by Heather Landy in Quartz : (https://qz.com/sam-altman-will-i-am-davos-ai-1851177108)


“I think one of the most important quests humanity is on, or should be on even more than we are, is to deliver technological prosperity to the world. And you know, there was, like, I think at Davos in some years past, there was this whole de-growth conversation going on. I think that is not something people actually want, or only a very fringe thing. What most people want is for the world to get better, for our lives to get better. And the only long-term, sustainable way to do that is technology, scientific discovery, and I think the two most important areas for that are intelligence and energy. Those are the inputs to everything else in the techno-prosperity mission."


And so as we bring the cost of intelligence down, its capability up, its abundance up, as cognitive services come down in cost by a factor of 1,000 or 1 million or whatever, think about what can happen for the world.


Every kid can have a great one-on-one, personalised tutor; every kid on Earth can get a better education than the best a kid can get today.


We can all get great healthcare when you discover new drugs.


We can all be more productive—you’re already seeing this with programmers today. 


We can be way more creative; I think the quality of media and entertainment is going to go nuts in a really wonderful way ...


Eventually we can all have, like, a whole company’s worth of cognitive ability and we can create whatever we imagine.


I think this will be the most powerful tool humans have yet created. And what it will let us do is to create, imagine things, to translate, to imagine things into reality ...


I think we will have never seen anything quite like it, even though it’s always tempting to say, “This time it’s different.”. “


On some levels, this is hard to argue with and indeed could be described as a hugely altruistic endeavour set to right the wrongs in our global society.


But on so many other levels isn’t this nothing less than lazy thinking and possibly applying our Western centric values and belief systems on a global challenge that affects all of us at the centre of AI development the least?


His vision made me think how little we understand the world around us and how easily our wealth and comfortable existence keeps us stuck in a bubble. 


It took me back to when I was going through adoption training to be approved to adopt our two sons. Over the course of several weeks of intense training with other prospective adopters we were introduced to the lives and experiences that a child in the care system experiences.


One of the most common reasons for a child being taken into care in this country is neglect. I entered into the process with a clear understanding of what neglect meant - I had read about it, what else was there to know?


Well, I came out of these sessions with my eyes well and truly opened and for the first time in my life realised what living in a bubble really means.


I had imagined neglect and its impact through my own lived experiences and life lenses and it was completely out of kilter with the reality of what these kids experience.


I have since realised how far this bubble extends, most notably in the teaching profession.


Having been an adoptive parent for ten years now I have had more than my fair share of time spent “outside the headmaster's study” dealing with situations at school.


It is extremely rare to come across someone in the teaching profession who truly understands the background and experiences of neglect on children.


Normally they do what I would have done, which is use their own experiences to gauge what is good or bad behaviour and how to manage a child.


They often get it terribly wrong and completely misread the situation and unwittingly inflict more damage.


Don’t get me wrong.

This isn’t a criticism.


We have been fortunate to have incredible people teaching our boys, but all but a few, like us before we went through the training, have never been properly exposed to what life outside their bubble looks like and means.


The school system in the UK at least, offers nothing other than scant training on looked after children and their needs.


I fear people like Sam Altman live in a similar bubble and risk trying to fix the world's problems with their own take on life which possibly isn’t a healthy or helpful perspective to start from.


Will.i.am's Insight

In contrast, Will.i.am, during a subsequent panel discussion with fellow musician Sting and anthropologist Jane Goodall, voiced his concerns over the rapid advancements in AI.


His view is that products would soon become self-aware and more intelligent than their users, and highlighted the imbalance in funding between AI development and human development.


Here is a transcript from the same article above:


“Very soon, products will have self-awareness and be smarter than the people consuming the product. That’s kind of inhumane, how we can have a world where items have more funding to be intelligent than humans.


So that’s what I work on with our foundation, and [I] find, every year, raising money for AI is easier than raising money for “HI”—for human intelligence. For some reason, people don’t seem to find it urgent to bring people up to speed. So that’s troubling.


As much as I love technology ... it just breaks my heart that we’re not uploving. We have to reskill, and we have to upskill. But no one’s talking about uploving, and how we could lead with empathy and not lead with greed.”


Will.i.am criticised the prioritisation of technological investment over human growth and progress, stressing the need to reskill and upskill humans but also to 'uplove'—to lead with empathy rather than greed.


His message challenged the audience to consider the ethical implications of AI and the importance of investing in human potential alongside technological innovation.


This isn’t a new point of view and is something Will.i.am has been talking about for many years now. As far back as 2019 at a Dell conference he has been sharing these opinions:


“The investment that society has put in AI  surpasses the investment for HI. It’s so lopsided that subconsciously we know that we haven’t invested in our youth, in our communities. We haven’t invested in humanity to keep up with intelligent machines.”


Balancing Technological and Human Investments

I think Will.i.am speaks a lot of sense and we need much more balance in our debates and plans for how we use technology. The current trend in AI investment heavily favours technological development.


Companies are pouring billions into AI research and infrastructure, aiming to harness the power of machine learning, natural language processing, and other AI-driven technologies.


However, as Will.i.am rightly points out, this focus often overshadows the need for investments that enhance human capabilities and ensure that AI benefits are broadly distributed.


It feels a bit like we are sometimes all guilty of forgetting why we are going to work. It’s ultimately not to get richer in a financial sense, but to increase our wealth in other ways such as quality of life; for everyone.


I’m no scientist or medic, but I do feel pretty comfortable in saying that our wellbeing as individuals boils down to some fairly simple needs - physical health being one. Within physical health I would include exercising your biggest muscle - the brain (yes I know it’s not technically a muscle, but we are told to treat it like one).


Exercising your brain, keeping it fluffy and healthy, is pretty much at the heart of our well-being as humans.


(Watch this great talk on brain health and its role in your life: The Exercise Neuroscientist: NEW RESEARCH, The Shocking Link Between Exercise And Dementia! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o-tRub-0pQ)


Will.i.am poses a pretty simple question to us all that ties right back to our brains. Why are we prioritising investment in making machines smarter than humans?


If we truly have these altruistic goals for the betterment of everyone, are we clear on the impact and hence the right approach to developing a technology that removes the need for the vast majority to exercise their brain less rather than more, which is what's needed?


It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something feels intuitively wrong to have the debate around something with the potential impact on humans such as AI to be driven by the finances and minds of people who’s life bubble is predominantly in the technology and finance space.


Technology has a history of having solutions looking for a problem to call home.


I think we need more Will.i.ams from the right-brained world entering into this debate before our left-brained counterparts get left to run the AI story themselves for too long.


We must learn from our past mistakes - such as what we have created with social media and the devastating impact this has been having on the social patterns in society and worse still on the development of our children. 


The creative industries need to get more involved and use their influence to introduce more right-brained thinking into the leadership of our technology and finance sectors.


It would be interesting to hear their views on the algorithms that have been developed using AI to target us with all this creative thinking via apps such as TikTok or Instagram.


I’m a Landscape Designer in my spare time so count myself as somewhere on the creative spectrum and I don’t see an upsurge in creativity, quite the opposite I see everything becoming dangerously homogenous and true creativity is getting harder to find.


At Beyond, we strive to work collaboratively with our clients and across our own internal teams.


I insist on making sure we have left-brained and right-brained people working together on a problem.


Harnessing the strengths of both left-brained and right-brained thinkers can drive much more innovative and effective problem-solving.


Left-brained thinkers, with their analytical and logical prowess, are great at breaking down complex problems into manageable parts and developing systematic solutions.


Meanwhile, our right-brained thinkers bring creativity, intuition, and real world thinking to the table, offering fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.


When these two cognitive styles collaborate, they create a ying-yang of synergy that balances logic with creativity.


Importantly, what you get is well-rounded, robust solutions that consider the world around them that might not otherwise emerge from a homogenous thinking group.


This blend of analytical rigour and creative insight is crucial for addressing complex business challenges and in our world putting data to work.


Beyond’s Commitment to Human-Centric AI

We are committed to combining left-and-right-brained thinking to bridge the gap between technology and human investments.


Our approach to data analytics is inherently human-centric, focusing on transforming data into actionable insights that directly benefit our clients and their customers.


Our stated purpose is to harness the transformative power of data and AI, integrating it with human ingenuity to spark innovation, boost efficiency, and above all enrich lives.


We firmly believe that combining cutting-edge technology with human creativity and insight can revolutionise the way businesses operate, drive sustainable growth, and enhance the quality of life for not just their customers but the people working there.


We try to integrate this thinking into our work wherever we can as follows:


Enhancing Data Literacy:

We put data literacy to the top of the list, ensuring that our clients and their teams are well-equipped to understand the opportunities and leverage data effectively.


By demystifying data and making it accessible, we want to empower individuals to make informed decisions and drive business and personal success.


Driving Customer-Centric Strategies:

We use advanced analytics to delve deep into customer behaviour, enabling our clients to tailor their strategies to meet the evolving needs of their customers.


Our projects embed diversity into their thinking and are designed to be inclusive, ensuring they are addressing the needs of diverse populations and ensuring that insights are actionable across different demographics.


This approach not only enhances customer satisfaction but also drives healthy business growth.


Fostering Innovation Through Collaboration:

Collaboration is at the heart of our work.


By engaging with both data communities to stay ahead of analytics trends and wider creative industries and sectors to understand consumers betters, we ensure that our clients benefit from the latest innovations in AI and data analytics.


This collaborative approach extends to our left and right brained thinking and how we interact and co-design with our clients.


Will.i.am’s call for increased investment in human-centric initiatives is a timely reminder of the need for balanced development in the AI landscape.


Sam Altman's vision of AI's transformative potential is great, but further underscores the importance of having a thoughtful approach to how we as a society consider the application of technology.


At Beyond: Putting Data to Work, we are committed to a vision integrating human-centric principles into our data analytics projects and fostering an inclusive, data-driven future.


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