Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

The Last Ones

The Last Ones

Juliet Lipchin

Year 8, Ruyton Girls School

Would you put your life in the hands of a total stranger? Well we do it every day.

When we drive a car, we trust other drivers to follow road rules. When we board an aeroplane, we trust the pilot not to crash. When we eat at a restaurant, we trust the chef not to poison us. We trust all these people not because we know the drivers or the pilot, but because we trust humans to follow society's rules and conventions. Now let's replace the car driver with a self-driving program; AI. If that self-driving car crashes, who do we hold accountable? Will a computer be governed by the same rules? Could we, then, trust in AI?

We should fear the perverse and unintended consequences of AI evolution. Firstly, by comparing AI's development to past industrial revolutions we can observe how disastrous it will be on every day people. Secondly, AI has the ability to evolve beyond humanity's goals, posing a serious existential threat. Finally, we will ponder the question: What separates man from machine? For these reasons we should mistrust and seriously reconsider our investment in the development of AI.

On the one hand, some people might argue that society is improved by industrial revolutions. Sure, each revolution introduces new technology, like AI, but let's take a step back and ask ourselves: at what cost?

Let me unpack this for you.

The first industrial revolution introduced steam power, increasing trade and industrial production, while also threatening the safety, health and conditions of workers. The second industrial revolution brought electricity, making mass production possible, but also saw an expansion of slavery, worker exploitation and gross inequity between the rich and poor. The third wave saw the development of IT systems and electronic technology, characterising our globalised modern world. And yet, right now, we see thousands of children and women enslaved in sweatshops working for pennies. All three revolutions threatened every day workers while only creating efficiency and profit for wealthy elites. And now, right now, we have a serious concern when it comes to job security. Paralegals, doctors, accountants and bankers are being replaced by AI technology that makes assessments and judgment on the lives of all of us. Sure, we might achieve productivity spikes. But time and time again, we suffer. Regular people. Families like mine and yours. The fear is justified.

We must also consider the theoretical sentience AI will inevitably develop.

Sure, we control and program AI software right now, but soon, this may not be the case. On a theoretical level, the rise of AI is a rise of AI competence. The question, here, is what happens when highly intelligent AI software, that has replaced our lawyers, replaced our doctors, controls our cars, schools and hospitals, develops goals that are misaligned with humanity's? This is where I ask you all an important question.

What differentiates machine from man?

Love. Empathy. Fundamentally, our society is driven by love and emotions, permeating throughout our lives. And this difference is important.

A human can see the beauty in imperfection. AI that has never experienced the real world, felt the thrill of a new friendship, the stress of a new job, or the pain of losing a loved one cannot be allowed to euthanise a patient, sentence a supposed criminal or teach a class. We should fear the development of AI as we cannot lose the love and empathy that binds us together, that binds a leader to their country and a daughter to her family.

We should fear and reconsider AI. Remember what makes us who we are.