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Responsible use of AI and Integral Humanism

“Think before you launch. To launch and then think is a disgrace,” wrote thousands of years back, great Tamil philosopher Thiruvalluvar, in his classic text Thirukural.

AI, the product of ‘new science’ of the world war phase, is no more some sci-fi fantasy or a mere ‘high tech silver bullet,’ more than half of the world’s population lives with it day/night, every single second when they turn to their ‘smart’ Apps or gadgets, knowingly or unknowingly. According to some rough estimates, 77% of the devices of common use feature one form of AI or the other, and approx 97% of mobile users already use AI-powered voice assistants (and only 33% of these users are aware of the fact that are using it). The global AI market is expected to be $60 billion by 2025 and at the same time, there are concerns that AI can replace 30% of the workforce globally, and millions will have to switch their careers by 2030.

On the question of the use of AI, the global debate is largely divided into two blocs, one which is frequently raising alarm and cautioning humanity about its dangers, and the other, which is telling people to find the light at the end of the tunnel, with a common argument that the way humanity survived after the industrial revolution, it also will after AI takeover.

It is interesting to note that some of the well-known voices from both groups, have their investments in continued AI developments, and in some cases, these are the same people who sit at the front seat of global AI efforts. So the question comes for whom these advice/concerns/cautions stand for? And on whom the onus of ‘Responsibility’ really lies?

‘Responsibility’- From ‘Computerization’ to AI

This realization that this new science of information feedback systems, which he called ‘Cybernetics,’ could have enormous social and ethical implications, motivated Norbert Wiener to highlight those anticipated challenges through his lectures and writings. In his book “Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine” (1948), Norbert Wiener wrote: “If the first industrial revolution, the revolution of the ‘dark satanic mills,’ was the devaluation of the human arm by the competition of machinery, the modern industrial revolution (i.e., the computer revolution) is similarly bound to devalue the human brain,” and the solution in his views “is to  have a society based on human values other than buying and selling,” and he also wrote that: “to arrive at this society, we need a good deal of planning and a good deal of struggle (Wiener 1948).”

A few decades later, in a different time zone, in a different part of the world, a more upgraded and relevant discussion on the use of technology, and its impact on social, psychological, and behavioral related aspects was started.

1984 – ‘Anti-Computerization’ year of Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh (BMS)

In the All India Conference, Hyderabad, Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh (BMS) (a trade union of India, founded on 23 July 1955) decided to observe the year 1984 in India as “Anti Computerization Year.”

In the same year, on the occasion of Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh’s Foundation Day, Mumbai, while addressing the volunteers, on the subject of ‘Computerization,’ great thinker and founder of BMS, Dattopant Bapurao Thengadi, initiated a constructive dialogue on the question of the healthier use of computer technology, which could have corrected the trajectory of global technology efforts long before the public use of the internet and AI. But unfortunately, instead, it was misrepresented, condemned, and suppressed before culminating into a global discourse, by not just the foreign but domestic narration industry too.

Today, when AI has placed ‘Human’ and the future of  ‘Human Worker’ at the center of debate again, it is important to recall some of the key observations/arguments which Dattopant Thengadi made in his speech on ‘Computerization’ in 1984, as some of those ideas are more relevant now in the global context.

Some Background:

It is important to note that in 1984 ‘computerization’ was not a newly introduced idea in India. On June 6, 1964, the Computer Society of India was formed, which highlighted that the applications of computers in India are: Payroll, cost accounting, financial accounting, stores accounting, billing invoicing, inventory control, production scheduling, sales analysis, operation research, and development, education and training, and program testing.

But what provoked Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh to intervene was an incident where the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA, the association of Indian Banks) presented a condition before all banking sector employees of the country that they will be called for ‘wage negotiation’ only if they will accept the ‘computerization.’ At that time the other largest trade union of the country which belongs to the communist bloc easily accepted the idea of mandatory computerization, and gave a big moral blow to the common employees of banks, across the country. It was a time when the government machinery, big businesses, and media all key stakeholders, were together involved in creating the hype about computerization, and similar to Artificial Intelligence, the idea of ‘computerization’ was promoted as one final solution for all the problems of humanity.

From the beginning, Dattopant Thengadi had this realization that the very use of the term ‘anti-computerization’ will frame the entire campaign into a certain light, will project them as anti-technology, anti-development, out-dated, Luddites, and obscurantist (as communists used to call them with such names) and he had the entire moral cost of running that campaign in his mind but unshaken from that he decided to bear that and kept the interests of the nation and humanity at large, above everything else.

Some of the questions that were raised by Dattopant Thengadi on ‘Computerization,’ are still relevant and can suggest a direction for the effective use of AI as well.

In his speech, Dattopant Thengadi highlighted that (Thengadi 1984):

–The inherent elements of centralization and control of ‘decision making’ that computerization offers, attract both private capitalism and state capitalism (the communism) alike.

–He had this clarity that by its very nature, any science or technology product has the equal potential to become good or evil, depending upon the fact that who is behind it. As he said: “if used properly, a machine can prove an asset, and if not, then it can prove the biggest liability too.”

–He objected not to the technology but multi-national corporations’ approach to technology and the way these corporations were forcing its use on the developing world (including India) without sharing enough information about it, even with the government machinery of different countries.

–He was against the idea of indiscriminately accepting whatever is offered or dumped by the western world here, without considering our local conditions and the ongoing discussions/dialogues that were happening in other parts of the world (including in the USA) on the potential harm of this new technology.

–He was of the view that if this Second Industrial Revolution, which computers are bringing, will create: A whole new environment; A whole new civilization; A whole new tempo and outlook, A whole new way of life and A very different tomorrow, then a decision on adopting it cannot be a matter of an agreement between some Employer and his Employees alone! If it is going to affect the whole society then every responsible stakeholder of the society must be made to think about its implications, costs, and benefits. And that is possible only with integrated thinking and mindset, as advocated by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.

In a way, he offered an alternative way to look at the whole scenario, as in his own words, “the romantic picture of computerization which its propagators were presenting before the common people of India was not all that rosy! (Thengadi 1984)”

In that speech, Thengadi shared his views on various possible physical, psychological, behavioral, and social implications of the use of computers, which were a matter of concern/debate even among the American thinkers/scientists fraternity as well.

And in his concluding remarks, Thengadi mentioned Norbert Wiener’s Technical Know-How and Know-what concept too. He referred that Dr. Wiener, father of ‘cybernetics,’ the intellectual foundation of computers, was of the view that it is necessary to distinguish between technical ‘know-how’ and technical ‘know-what.’ While technical ‘know-how’ tells how to achieve the given purposes, it is technical ‘know-what’ that gives clarity that what purposes are to be achieved?

That was the beginning of a good debate, which could have shaped technology development in a better direction. But we have seen whether it is Wiener’s warnings on technology ‘misuse’ or Dattopant Thengadi’s arguments on working with an ‘Integrated Thinking’ approach, or many such ideas of that phase, they all were largely remained ignored and sidelined in the mainstream of technology advancement.

2015- An Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence

In January 2015, a bloc of ‘concerned’ people including people like Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Prof Stephen Hawking, Google Deep Mind’s key executives, and dozens of technology experts/scientists/researchers/ and business people, as well as some academics from Cambridge, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, all signed an open letter saying that “if the industry doesn’t start building safeguards into artificial intelligence it could spell doom for humanity.” The letter insists that: “since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide (Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence 2015).”

It also highlighted potential effects of AI, positive and negative both, including short term and long term concerns/research priorities, and concludes with the usual statement that: “the research agenda outlined in this paper, and the concerns that motivate it, have been called anti-AI, but we vigorously contest this characterization.”

Some of the signatories of the ‘open letter’ received worldwide praise and a sort of celebrity status in the field of AI. Sometimes they can be found giving TEDx Talks, or media interviews, delivering Google Campus lectures, or some of them are even investing in the similar kind of AI projects that they were warning about, until a few years back.

It is a bit ironic that while the 2015 letter signing ceremony is presented as an important and historic event in the history of mankind, the 1984 ‘Anti-Computerization’ event of Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh is still considered as ‘anti-technology’ movement.

What steps and in what direction, some of those celebrity signatories have taken a few years later, can be an interesting case study of its own. But it is quite visible that an industry of AI Influencers and human values is certainly, taking shape since then. And current trends suggest that such an industry has the potential to not just shape the debate but to alter the very idea of ‘Responsibility’ in the technology, itself.

AI and the Rise of a Moral Industry

It is interesting to note that in just 3-4 years, the AI debate has produced more technical, philosophical, and diplomatic jargon than any other subject of our time. Some of these interesting AI terms are Human-centered AI, Human AI, Trustworthy AI, sustainable AI, fair AI, self-explaining AI, symbiotic AI, AI governance, AI Bias, Expert Systems, Knowledge-based expert systems, etc., the list can be a bit longer and equally long is the list of AI influencers cum humanity advocators (a new class of professionals).

One of the key signatories of the open letter and many such letters since then, Prof Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley, said in an interview that (in 2015) that: “In the future, moral philosophy will be a key industry sector, and the nature of human values and the process by which we make moral decisions will be a big tech business.”He further argued that as things will progress in the field of AI and robotics “presumably, the robot companies will get their values loaded into the robot from a values company. (Russell 2015)”

It is apparent that the rise of this new ‘Moral’ industry is inevitable, but the question comes, is an industry where morality and human values are traded as a commodity, capable of producing a practical and working philosophy for the responsible use of AI (or any other future technology improvisations)?

So from where a credible definition of ‘Responsible AI’ will come?

U.S. and China – Two Popular Versions of AI

In his recently published book “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” Henry Kissinger (former NSA and secretary of state, U.S.) writes that: “the characteristics of AI- including its capacities to learn, evolve, and surprise- will disrupt and transform them all,” and “the outcome will be the alternation of human identity and the human experience of reality at levels not experienced since the dawn of the modern age (Kissinger, Schmidt and Huttenlocher 2021).”

On the other hand, according to Dr. Kai Fu Lee (a key driver of China’s current AI efforts), China’s AI trajectory started as a counter-reaction to Alpha GO’s win over Chinese Go Champion Ke Jie, as he often mentions that the AlphaGo victory “lit a fire under the Chinese technology community that has been burning ever since.”

It is their shared understanding of the strategic calculations of AI that connects Kissinger and Kai-Fu Lee. Kissinger often warns about the possible AI ‘Cold War,’ between the USA and China, Kai-Fu Lee talks about the emergence of a new kind of AI-led ‘bipolar’ world order.

In between these interactions, it is visible that both sides are also engaged in an AI arms race, which was going on in a typical cold war manner until a pentagon official exposed it when he resigned questioning the USA’s lack of preparedness to counter China in the domain of AI (in the month of October last year).

Is this ‘Race’ mindset and bi-polar perspective, which see AI as a critical factor in power calculations, can offer a valid template for Responsible use of the technology?

“For the man, to throw the problem of his responsibility on the machine, whether it can learn or not, is to cast his responsibility to the winds, and to find it coming back seated on the whirlwind,” said mathematician Norbert Wiener (The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, 1954)

AI and Integral Humanism

In his monograph “Random Thoughts 2019-2020,” noted thinker S Gurumurthy writes: “The post-covid-19 world provides India with a unique and historic opportunity to emerge as an idea giver to a new world order (Gurumurthy 2020).”

At a time when all major powers are pursuing AI Arms race and information warfare, India has presented the idea of Mission LIFE before the world, where LIFE means- Lifestyle for Environment, a vision for a resilient and sustainable lifestyle to deal with uncertain future challenges of the planet.

It is important to note that from talent to infra to innovation capabilities, India has all ingredients to lead in a technology race but despite that, the country selected a path, which sometimes appears less attractive in power calculations.

The difference in the approach of India and the West, on the questions of ‘Responsibility’, reflects in their approach toward AI too.

The story of New India is a story of responsible use of digital technology as well. In India’s Reform, Perform and Transform trajectory, digital technologies have played a significant part. With 130 crore Unique Identity numbers, 118 crore mobile subscribers, 80 crore internet users, and approx 43 crore Jan Dhan bank accounts, today India has the world’s biggest integrated infrastructure.

India’s current approach to technology is influenced by an underlying guiding philosophy of ‘Integral Humanism,’ given by great visionary Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.

In his 76th UNGA address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “Integral Humanism is the co journey of development and expansion from self to the collective that is – expansion of the self, moving from individual to the society, the nation, and entire humanity.”

The question of human use of technology, human identity, his aspirations, and his needs are at the center of technology debate of our time but years before, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya addressed these issues in his Integral Humanism philosophy where he said: “The system must help and not disregard the human being, the individual,” and “any system which obstructs the production activity of the people is self-destructive.”

In his ‘Integral Humanism’ philosophy Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya emphasized the integrated approach of Bhartiya culture for the progress and happiness of Man, Society, Nation, and Humanity at large. It says that “Body, mind, intelligence and the soul.-these four make up an individual“ thus “progress of individual means progress of the body, mind, intellect, and soul of man, all together.” It is important to note that here the individual comprising of body, mind, intellect, and soul is not limited to singular “I” but is also inseparably related to the plural “We,” therefore it says that we must also think of the progress and happiness of a group, society, nation, and even entire humanity.

India believes that AI is a tribute to human intelligence and “the teamwork of AI with humans can do wonders for our planet,” as PM Modi rightly said at the Responsible AI for Social Empowerment 2020 summit.

“If a rare opportunity occurs, while it lasts, let a man do that which is rarely to be accomplished,” said Thiruvalluvar in Thirukural.

The combination of AI and Integral Humanism can provide a fresh perspective to global technology efforts!

Is India ready to take the lead?

References

Gurumurthy, S. Random Thoughts 2019-2020. New Delhi: Vivekananda International Foundation, 2020.

Kissinger, Henry, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher. The Age of AI: And Our Human Future. Little, Brown and Company, 2021.

“Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence.” Wikipedia. January 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Letter_on_Artificial_Intelligence.

Russell, Stuart, interview by Queena Sook Kim. Stuart Russell on Why Moral Philosophy Will Be Big Business in Tech (October 27, 2015).

Thengadi, Dattopant. Computerization. Mumbai: Bhartiya Shram Shodh Mandal, 1984.

Wiener, Norbert. Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. M.I.T. Press, 1948.

About the Author
Devsena Mishra promotes advanced technologies, startup ecosystems and Indian government’s business and technology related initiatives like Digital India, Make in India and Startup India etc. through her portals, articles, videos, and books.
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