Wednesday, 4th October 2023

Demystifying Artificial Intelligence

By ‘Femi D. Ojumu
12 April 2023   |   3:20 am
Deployed in a variety of contexts and senses, what is indubitable is that the noun intelligent, from which the qualifying adjective intelligence, is derived, colloquially connotes brightness, cerebral acuity, a consistent presence of mind, high critical reasoning and processing faculties, mental agility and smartness of a natural or an unnatural person;

Artificial Intelligence (AI). PHOTO; FORBES

Deployed in a variety of contexts and senses, what is indubitable is that the noun intelligent, from which the qualifying adjective intelligence, is derived, colloquially connotes brightness, cerebral acuity, a consistent presence of mind, high critical reasoning and processing faculties, mental agility and smartness of a natural or an unnatural person; all within the province of cognitive and intellectual capacity. Transposing this construct in different settings, the logic embraces emotional intelligence, financial intelligence, military intelligence, national intelligence, political intelligence, strategic intelligence et al.

In the seminal article, Imagination, Cognition and Personality (1990), the authors Peter Salovey and John Mayer, propounded the psychological construct of emotional intelligence as “a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan and achieve on one’s life.”

Similar, although by no means identical principles, govern financial intelligence. The latter entails proactive information gathering, analysis and matching of the financial activities of persons to grasp their essence, modus operandi and proposals and is often utilised by law enforcement agencies to combat criminality, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism etc. On the other hand, military intelligence, of which communications and signals intelligence are subsets, encompass anticipatory subject matter evaluation, use and dissemination, to inform decision making by vetted officers, pertaining to military or civilian targets, whether in peacetime or wartime.

Virtually all governments maintain a degree of military intelligence as an essential security component of statecraft. Oftentimes however, this capability and its deployment are vigorously contested by activists on civil liberty grounds with active intermediation by national courts. Whereas, strategic intelligence is contextually situated within the realms of aerospace, counter-terrorism, defence, economics, finance, genetics, germ warfare, economics, espionage, foreign relations, national security etc for policy development and military campaigns at domestic and national level.

Exemplifying the point in Strategic Intelligence, Conceptual Tools for Leading Change (2015), Michael Maccoby, opined that the best leaders in business, defence, government echelons utilised key elements of the construct to transform their organisational environments and countries. These components include foresight, the ability to envisage trends which present challenges or opportunities for an entity; visioning, the capacity to map out various scenarios and frame effective responses to them working collaboratively with relevant stakeholders; systems thinking, which entails holistic creative problem-solving approaches; and importantly, motivating people to collaborate and optimally deliver agreed outputs consistent with organisational goals.

The highlighted intelligence typologies all surface striking commonalities including target identification, prediction, proactive information gathering, evaluation, processing, deployment, subjective judgment, intentionality regarding securing psychological advantage, environmental awareness and, clearly, human interaction. The latter is what distinguishes them from the subject of today’s essay, slaying the mystique of artificial intelligence, which as the name suggests, offsets human intermediation in the execution of its functional capabilities in many, albeit not all, contexts.

So, exactly what’s artificial intelligence and why is it important? In what context is it deployed? Do the benefits outweigh the disbenefits? Is the balance of its disruptive innovation, right? Ethical? Does it pose an existential threat to humans? What are the effective, nuanced and robust regulatory safeguards around it from an intermestic perspective?

The term artificial intelligence (AI) encompasses mathematical and statistical concepts pertaining to automata theory, cybernetics, thinking machines, originally developed by Darmouth College researchers in the mid-1950s. It simply means technology, which “enables a computer to think or act in a more ‘human’ way.” The modus operandi is fairly simple; it does this, in part, by spatial awareness, data analysis, evaluation, processing and utilisation, whilst formulating responses determined by what it has gathered, improving its capabilities and potential all the time.

Formally defined by Stanford University’s Computer Science Department’s John McCarthy, in a revised paper on the subject in 2007, AI, is “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programmes.
It is related to the similar tasks of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.”

Indeed, the analytical philosophical underpinnings of human intelligence and artificial intelligence are closely intertwined in that they both analyse the mind, neuro-informatics, reason and sentience or perceptive capacity. Leading players in the artificial intelligence space include Anthropic, DeepMind and Open AI. The latter’s AI-enabled ChatGPT chatbox was valued at approximately USD 29 billion in January 2023 with versatile features enabling it to imitate human conversations with a reasonable degree of accuracy; write and debug computer programs; mimic motivational speakers, and celebrities and prepare business pitches.

It can compose music, write poetry and even student essays to mention just some of its features!

And, artificial intelligence is evolving at phenomenal speed around the world whilst its deployment is evident in virtually every aspect of modern-day life including automatic speech recognition, search engines, online virtual agents, B2B and B2C online shopping, inventory planning, lean methodologies and inventory planning. Regarding online shopping for example, recommendation applications use artificial intelligence algorithms to spot data and shopping trends which are then used to sharpen targeted cross-selling opportunities during the checkout process.

Plus, machine learning and language translation applications, for instance, rely on artificial intelligence to provide language translation to embed and sharpen translations ditto reflexive subtitling. The same relates to artificial intelligence driven automated stock trading with capabilities to process millions of ultra-high frequency transactions daily devoid of human intermediation.

The striking advances in semi-autonomous vehicles with in-built navigational aids, vision inspired-digital assisted systems (VI-DAS), aiming to better understand driver, vehicle and scene context; which offer attractive opportunities to cut accidents thereby saving lives, lower carbon footprints thereby clean air, healthier lungs and lives, and cheaper insurance premiums; are all reliant on artificial intelligence.

A fortiori, computer vision is heavily dependent on artificial intelligence. The technology affords computer software and hardware applications to generate actionable data from digital footprints, images and other visual inputs. It is enabled by convolutional neural networks, with applications embedding photo tagging in social media, radiology imaging in healthcare, and autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles within the automotive industry.

More so, aviation, cybersecurity, healthcare delivery, financial market operations, military purposes including drone technology and missile deployment systems, multimodal transport payment systems like the London Underground Limited’s “oyster” card; and gaming applications exemplified by IBM’s “Deep Blue” computer which defeated then world chess champion Gary Kasporov; are all powered by artificial intelligence.

Given its ostensibly beneficial and growing impact on everyday life, the magnetic appeal of its somewhat limitless expansion is perhaps understandable. However, should humanity be concerned? Absolutely! In a report on the Effects of Artificial intelligence on Economic Growth, published in March 2023, the investment bank, Goldman Sachs, estimates that 300 million jobs could be lost due to advances in artificial intelligence over the near time. And there is a lack of clarity on how the displacement outcomes would be mitigated in new employment.

This is a real concern when counterbalanced with the risks of unethical use. In short, because humanity consists of good and bad actors everywhere, for every positive opportunity afforded by artificial intelligence, it is reasonable and prudent to anticipate and take mitigating actions against bad actors, negative socio-economic outcomes, and the potential for harm to humanity.

The inescapable deduction, which flows from that hypothesis is the case for robust safeguards to effectively mitigate the risk of the pernicious deployment of artificial intelligence by state and non-state actors. What are the subsisting safeguards where law enforcement officers utilize artificial intelligence to spy on law-abiding citizens instead of investigating and impeding criminal activities, say?

To illustrate, the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units is a global compact based in Ontario, Canada, which facilitates cooperation and intelligence sharing between national financial intelligence units (FIUs), law enforcement, and intermestic prosecutors to investigate, disrupt and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. Member nations include United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, India, Switzerland etc.

Governmental and intergovernmental groups sit as observers and some of these are the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, European Commission, World Customs Organisation, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Europol, Cooperation Council for Arab States of the Gulf etc. Now, the Egmont Group’s intentions are unquestionably noble. However, what if a military coup in country X, displaces the incumbent rules-based democratic government and uses national artificial intelligence capabilities to oppressively suppress political opponents? Where are the checks and safeguards therein?

Again, what safeguards exist to prevent artificial intelligence applications from impeding the natural human capacity for intellectual curiosity, inquiry and reason if systems exist now to write students’ essays? Could this lend credence to the idle mind is the devil’s workshop phenomenon?

More widely, does humanity face an existential threat if self-correcting supercomputers become “more intelligent” than their human creators? If so, how is that threat, no matter how remote, being mitigated? Within the context of espionage, geopolitics, economic embargoes, military rearmament and proxy wars amongst superpowers, which institution will halt the adverse deployment of artificial intelligence in the absence of effective diplomacy? Is there a global consensus ad idem on this?

Ending, artificial intelligence certainly offers vast transformative opportunities for mankind in various aspects discussed above. The science can only get better which is welcome. However, ethical issues concerning its penetration and the potential for its misuse demand careful and urgent analysis. There is a case for a small group of subject matter experts in the field, key industry players and regulators from the global north, global south and BRIC economies to brainstorm these issues with actionable recommendations for a start.

Ojumu is the Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal practitioners and strategy consultants in Lagos, Nigeria.

In this article