What it means to be human in an increasingly digital reality and what needs to be done to reduce our impact on the environment. What are the dilemmas in the relationship between man and machine and what prevails in the technological world, fed by a huge amount of data?
What saves humanity is its own nature, empathetic, naive and humble. Intelligence, after all, will never be artificial.
Cathy Mulligan is Professor and Chair of the European Blockchain Research Area at the Instituto Superior Técnico, where she leads the Laboratory dedicated to Blockchain Research for Social Good and Sustainability. In an interview for Líder, he talks about the urgency of a new, digital, fair and sustainable economic model, challenges for building technological and scientific knowledge, and puts his finger on the wound when he talks about unhealthy and counterproductive competition. between institutions of higher education in Portugal.
“My goal in life is to contribute to access to digital technologies for everyone in society, fair and equal,” is his statement. How can we do this?
Thinking deeply about the way we organize society. It is currently structured the way it is because it was better suited to an industrial economy, centralized and controlled by large financial interests. Today, that approach is over 200 years old – it’s time for a change! The digital economy can create a new kind of economic system, a new way of encouraging different activities around the world that are sustainable and fair. But we must dare to seize the opportunity while there is still time. I have no doubt that we have some time to change the way people interact with the environment and with each other before climate change hits. Pretending to do sustainability because it’s trendy is not the answer.
Human evolution has taken millions of years to reach the present moment, while technology is developing at a rapid pace. Experts say that in 2029, the smartest being on the face of the earth will not be a human, but an AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) machine. What dilemmas will we face?
Expressions like “the smartest being in the world” annoy me. What do you mean by “smart”?! If this means that a GPT (Guid Partition Table) AI can process large amounts of data and provide analysis/predictions based on that data, that’s probably already true in today’s world. Computers already do it better than us. Most of our estimates of intelligence are again based on what was useful for an industrial economy. Our education system codifies what is called “being smart” and “being decent”, but are we sure that these are the correct definitions for the 21st century? I’m not so sure!
So I think we’re already facing dilemmas in 2029, we’re just not acknowledging them. For me, these dilemmas include (but are not limited to) what does it mean to be human in a digital world? What are the best ways to protect the world that we believe will sustain our ability to continue to survive as a species? What are the best organizational methods to reduce environmental impact and ensure a fair distribution of resources?
Earlier this summer, we heard the news about a Google engineer who was fired for claiming that an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot had become sentient, and it went live. In a time of global crisis, with the urgency of peace, health and well-being, can artificial intelligence save us?
First of all, many engineers are attached to their projects, so it is not surprising that someone at Google is so attached to their NLP project that they think they are reaching the feelings of a child. Engineers create things from scratch and that process is intense and immensely creative. I often say that engineers build the future, but it’s important to have regular downtime outside of work. Hearing the news, I suggest that you also take some time off – it seems to me that in this case he must have spent a lot of time at work.
However, back to the heart of the matter, both humans and computers are completely bad at predicting the future – because data from the past does not help us predict what will happen in the future. Especially in times of great change, it can be dangerous to rely too much on previous data sets, and that’s really what AI does. So a GPT that processes a lot of data doesn’t necessarily help us. The depth of (human) thought, empathy, ingenuity, creativity and humility in the search for answers, that will, yes, save us.
AI, like any other tool, is just a tool, we cannot count on it to “save” us, only we can save ourselves. It can help, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up on what is actually extremely advanced data analytics. In essence, it is the same when ancient people relied on star signals, their advanced data analysis.
The world of technology between AI, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, NFTs, among others, raises burning questions about digital literacy. What is being done about it?
This is a great question to ask and it really depends on the country you are in. Finland, for example, has made significant efforts to make its entire population understand AI. In the United Kingdom, university professors are expected to make a significant contribution, in various ways, to the education of the general population. I think this is something that can be useful for Portugal to learn from there and do more and ensure that the country gets the right effect from the investment in education and research. Since Portuguese teachers are civil servants, I think they should work for the Portuguese people, contribute to the broad education of the entire population (not just graduates) and the economic development of the country, as is done in other countries. However, that doesn’t always seem to be the case here.
As a professor of computer science at the Instituto Superior Técnico and director of the newly founded DCentral laboratory, what are your experiences and what are your insights into the construction of technological knowledge and ways of its implementation in our country?
When I lived in London, I was always surprised by the number of Portuguese I met; already at that time it seemed that there was a strong “brain drain” in the country. The best thing about Instituto Superior Técnico is the students, they are fantastic and very intelligent. Last year I really enjoyed working with them and watching them develop their ideas and produce some outstanding projects.
In terms of building technological knowledge and its application in the country, I think there are many good things in Portugal, in its research community, but there is a lack of interdisciplinarity between scientific and engineering topics that I think I can really use. country. Connecting electrical engineering with computing through modern research methods would also be extremely useful, for example for environmental protection engineering.
Another problem is that links between the country’s universities are surprisingly rare. Cooperation between universities is essential for the development of research worldwide. I think that many Portuguese universities are each in their own corner and not doing things together. This means that the tech ecosystem is held back as different universities compete with each other instead of working together for the common good of the country. I think there is a lot of focus on the individual “greatness” of teachers, and little on their contribution to the Portuguese community, society and economy.
I think that the full development of the Portuguese research and technology ecosystem requires more humility from the research community, more dedication to students and what they can achieve, and the perception that teaching is not a job, but a vocation and a calling on the future of the country.
As for Web3 and Blockchain, this fragmentation is also, technically, a big problem. At the moment, Portugal has a chance to repeat the success that Scandinavia had, with the development of the telecommunications ecosystem in the early 90s, but since technical institutions compete with each other (and even internally, within institutions), this is unlikely. This means that Portugal risks being just a low-cost economy, where people can find cheap labour, which only increases the brain drain from the country, just like I experienced in London.
While I’m here, I do my best to help students access the developmental opportunities their brains deserve, hoping that providing those opportunities will somehow avoid this brain drain.
Author: Rita Rugeroni Saldanha
This article appeared in the fall issue of Líder magazine. Subscribe to Líder here: Líder Magazine | Central theme | Online store – LEADER