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Op/ed: AI Needs Pragmatists and Blue-Sky Visionaries

Next-gen Tech Can Amaze—and Respect Human Values

By Ben Shneiderman

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Experts with rosy takes on the development of artificial intelligence and those with dark outlooks should be equally heeded, a UMD researcher argues in a Scientific American op/ed.

Illustration by iStock

Visions of the future of artificial intelligence take on starkly different hues—from promises of amazing advances that will improve all our lives to warnings of threats to privacy and the potential for contributing to political tyranny.

Both are important to heed, says computer science Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Ben Shneiderman, author of the recently published book, "Human-Centered AI," in a new essay in Scientific American. That approach can lead to technological development while ensuring human rights and dignity are maintained, he writes.

Artificial intelligence thinkers seem to emerge from two communities. One is what I call blue-sky visionaries who speculate about the future possibilities of the technology, invoking utopian fantasies to generate excitement. Blue-sky ideas are compelling but are often clouded over by unrealistic visions and the ethical challenges of what can and should be built.

In contrast, what I call muddy-boots pragmatists are problem- and solution-focused. They want to reduce the harms that widely used AI-infused systems can create. They focus on fixing biased and flawed systems, such as in facial recognition systems that often mistakenly identify people as criminals or violate privacy. The pragmatists want to reduce deadly medical mistakes that AI can make, and steer self-driving cars to be safe-driving cars. Their goal is also to improve AI-based decisions about mortgage loans, college admissions, job hiring and parole granting.

Read the rest in Scientific American.



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