“Futuro+umano. Quello che l’intelligenza artificiale non potrà mai darci” (“Future+human. What artificial intelligence will never be able to give us”) is the title of the book that the sociologist Francesco Morace has dedicated to the prospects opened up with the arrival of extremely powerful new technology yet to be discovered.

How can we get our bearings in this new world? Will machines end up replacing us? Or will they develop and bring out the true potential of humans? These are open questions, the answers to which are yet to be written.

Alessandro Curioni, Director of IBM Research in Zurich, and Damiano Costa, coordinator of the Master’s degree in Philosophy at USI, the University of the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, discussed these subjects with Francesco Morace at the Convivium organized by the IBSA Foundation.

Below is summary of what they said.

How we ought to face this new reality

Francesco Morace: It is important to understand and take different points of view on board. The first paradigm is sustainability, a simple yet complex concept at the same time: today it is essential to find a new balance between quality and quantity.

The second paradigm is time: speed often does not correspond with quality, and so “quick” is to be combined with “deep”, in order to achieve a broader and deeper vision.

The third paradigm is defined as “trust&sharing”, a concept that expresses the sharing of happiness. We are always searching for others to tell our stories to, we are always looking for other people’s stories, and hence it is necessary to strengthen the bonds that create trust.

In short, we have to use Artificial Intelligence to bring out our most human aspects.

Human instruments, such as the study of history and philosophy, have a place alongside Artificial Intelligence. Our kids have to well-equipped and must understand the priorities. The challenge is to distribute this highly-sophisticated knowledge in an inclusive manner: we need to offer lots of information on the advantages of this technology.

Alessandro Curioni: As human beings the amount of data we can access is limited. Artificial Intelligence is important because it helps us to extract information from all the sources in this world and to combine it with ours, so that we can make more informed and holistic decisions. Machines can optimize specific processes, helping us to work better and more efficiently. Since we are talking about highly powerful machines, transparency is essential: we need to know what the purposes of machines are and how they work.

Damiano Costa: We have to be aware that a machine is always the expression of the will of its creator. We fix its objectives, the machine never does. The future is in our hands.

But what are the main differences between human intelligence and artificial intelligence?

Francesco Morace: There are two very different kinds of intelligence. When we make a machine take a break, it stops; when we take a break, we start to reflect, because we can never switch ourselves off. Human intelligence has the distinctive feature of wandering off the subject, of digressing: great innovative advances are almost always made as a result of error or are unpredicted. This is why human intelligence cannot be reproduced in a machine. Machines solve problems, but cannot ask questions. There is a whole, profoundly-human world out there that cannot be predicted.

Damiano Costa: In what way is Artificial Intelligence intelligent? Artificial Intelligence is defined by its objectives. The least ambitious one is to simulate human behavior, creating machines that are indistinguishable from humans. The second is much more ambitious: to create machines that think, have feelings and make decisions. Therefore, to create an artificial humanity. For a philosopher, the second objective is impossible to achieve. Machines manipulate symbols, but don’t understand their meaning: they work using a calculation system based on input/output and algorithms.

As Alessandro Curioni said, the “predictive” ability of machines is achieved using analytical models and real-time data, and only works when the things around us act like a predictable system. In other words, machines are capable of predicting, or producing a statistical approximation on what will happen in the short-term, but they will never be able to make predictions the way that humans reasonably can.

Alessandro Curioni: We are unique creatures, with an enormous value. However, there are certain things that we are not perfect at, how we move and how we work, for instance. These systems change the way we work: they increase our abilities, they don’t replace us.  Thanks to Artificial Intelligence I want to keep my qualities and improve my defects. I don’t want to create a copy of myself. This is the right investment: to increase my cognitive abilities and to be more precise. I agree with what Damiano Costa said earlier: what machines do depends on how humans have programmed them. People must always make the final decision.