AI risks making us less human

AI risks making us less human

Tyler Austin Harper writes:

“Our focus with AI is to help create more healthy and equitable relationships.” Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder and executive chair of the dating app Bumble, leans in toward her Bloomberg Live interviewer. “How can we actually teach you how to date?”

When her interviewer, apparently bemused, asks for an example of what this means, Herd launches into a mind-bending disquisition on the future of AI-abetted dating: “Okay, so for example, you could in the near future be talking to your AI dating concierge, and you could share your insecurities. ‘I just came out of a breakup. I have commitment issues.’ And it could help you train yourself into a better way of thinking about yourself. And then it could give you productive tips for communicating with other people. If you want to get really out there, there is a world where your dating concierge could go and date for you with other dating concierges.” When her audience lets out a peal of uneasy laughter, the CEO continues undeterred, heart-shape earrings bouncing with each sweep of her hands. “No, no, truly. And then you don’t have to talk to 600 people. It will then scan all of San Francisco for you and say, These are the three people you really ought to meet.”

What Herd provides here is much more than a darkly whimsical peek into a dystopian future of online dating. It’s a window into a future in which people require layer upon layer of algorithmic mediation between them in order to carry out the most basic of human interactions: those involving romance, sex, friendship, comfort, food. Implicit in Herd’s proclamation—that her app will “teach you how to date”—is the assumption that AI will soon understand proper human behavior in ways that human beings do not. Despite Herd’s insistence that such a service would empower us, what she’s actually describing is the replacement of human courtship rituals: Your digital proxy will go on innumerable dates for you, so you don’t have to practice anything so pesky as flirting and socializing.

Hypothetical AI dating concierges sound silly, and they are not exactly humanity’s greatest threat. But we might do well to think of the Bumble founder’s bubbly sales pitch as a canary in the coal mine, a harbinger of a world of algorithms that leave people struggling to be people without assistance. The new AI products coming to market are gate-crashing spheres of activity that were previously the sole province of human beings. Responding to these often disturbing developments requires a principled way of disentangling uses of AI that are legitimately beneficial and prosocial from those that threaten to atrophy our life skills and independence. And that requires us to have a clear idea of what makes human beings human in the first place. [Continue reading…]

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