Can AI do for people what it’s done for chess?

AI chess
Image by John D Williams | Bigstockphoto

Data and AI are changing how we handle different situations and daily activities. A well-known example is how powerful computers changed the game of chess. Mobile apps and maps have changed how we move from point A to point B daily. But the question remains: how much can data and AI actually change us? And is that good or bad?

AI has become effective at playing chess and evaluating each move. Nowadays, chess game commentators can immediately say how good or bad a move a player did, especially when they can use computers to analyze moves. Players try to learn and memorize from computers (or what we can call AI) what could be the best moves in different typical situations.

Some people feel that when players try to follow the results of the calculations, this has made chess more boring. There is less creativity in deciding moves. This might be true for chess, but it might be another story for daily life.

For today’s computers, chess is not such a complex game anymore compared to the more complex decisions that we have to make from day to day. In many situations, people would be happy if they were able to get better advice on what is the best ‘move’.

Daily life apps are similar to chess

On a certain level, we can see how data and AI impact our lives already. When we take public transportation from point A to point B, we look at Google Maps or a local public transportation app to find the best route. We use mobile maps to find the fastest driving routes and estimated times of arrival. These apps often take into account public information about traffic jams and road construction. These are quite similar calculation tasks to chess moves.

These kinds of optimization calculations can easily become very complex – perhaps even too complex for classical computers. The traveling salesman problem is a famous example of how a supposedly simple task of optimizing a route through several points can become very complicated to solve. Often, it’s also presented as an example of the kinds of problems that would require a quantum computer to solve.

Older generations traditionally criticize younger generations for being lazier and not bothering to learn basic skills because they put too much trust in machines to do things for them. This mentality likely dates all the way back to the invention of the first machine. For some generations, it was machines that made clothes and shoes; for others, it was driving a car or using an electric calculator. Now it’s computers and AI – and whether or not such tech is making the younger generation lazier, it’s certainly changing our lives.

User-generated data and personal AI

AI does not have to be super-smart to change us. Many people want to count their steps and set targets of racking up 10,000 steps per day. Some critics argue that the 10,000 steps target isn’t based on any scientific research. However, for many people, it’s better to aim for 10,000 steps a day than not walk at all. Anyway, this is a simple example of how machines and data can change our lives.

Wearables and health data can have more influence on our life as more data becomes available and useful. I know people who say that they drink less alcohol nowadays, especially when their Fitbit or Oura devices ‘recognize’ it from their sleep variations and higher resting HR. Machines can change our behavior by making us better see the consequences of our actions.

To simplify this, we can divide the changes that machines can make on us into three categories:

  1. We don’t do certain tasks anymore because machines can do them.
  2. We use machines to help us with tasks, and our behavior changes to collaborate with machines to do them.
  3. Machines give us better insights and information that help us evaluate our activities; as a result, we make different decisions than we would without that information.

With AI and personal data, we know that they will change us, although it is still too early to know exactly how. For one thing, most AI solutions are still designed to evaluate businesses, big machines, and big data. They’re not really designed to collect data from consumers and advise them to help to optimize their daily activities.

However, we can already see some simple services that aim to benefit individual consumers – for example, in the health care and finance sectors.

Balancing utility and ethics

There are also many fascinating ethical questions. Are these changes good or bad for people? Do machines just advise us to get more benefits for ourselves, or to live a more ethical life? Do we forget some important skills when we start to trust more in machines than in our lives?

It is rarely possible to say that a certain technology or machine makes our life better or worse or whether we become more or less ethical. It depends on how the technology is used. This is very much the case with AI too. I wrote earlier that we should first work out the right questions about AI ethics before we start to make big statements.

But it is important to recognize that as we develop more AI-based devices and services, this development will change people too, and in fact is already doing so. AI can make some tasks much simpler or even boring to people, but we still have many complex situations and decisions in our life where AI can genuinely help.

It is especially significant that we will be able to utilize more of our personal data for more personal AI services and recommendations – not only to help us in daily situations, but also to make our life healthier (if we choose) and better evaluate the consequences of our decisions and actions.

However, as useful as AI can be, that doesn’t mean it will make our lives too easy. Even for the best AI, life as a whole is far too complicated to analyze.

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