The importance of accurate designation: Process vs Purpose

Recently I have been blessed by the opportunity to be a speaker at several tech conferences and even to be interviewed by tech futurist experts. They all had incredibly solid vision, almost to a certainty rarely seen before, of the evolution of technologies and how, with the push of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) all has become easier and better. So much so that in one instance it was said by the experts that the human element was actually the weakest link in the progress of technology.

I am not an expert in technology. I never professed to be one in fact. Simply put, I was born with a dose of intellectual curiosity in the last non internet growing up generation and was fascinated from a young age by programming software on what now are mega obsolete machines kindly gifted then to our school by IBM. Then computers and programs were called microprocessors.  For as far back as I can recall the fascination with these mystic microprocessors machines was always there for me and certainly movies such as “war games” made my fascination even bigger from a young age. The secret of the equation was to programme what would happen if something happened and dictate the outcome for the processor to do its thing. In essence “if” you do this “then” that must happen “go to line”. A very analytical process to be detailed microscopically for it to be accurate in its requested outcome. 

Things have evolved. That is great news. So much so that no one refers to microprocessors anymore. And it is a shame. In my opinion, the concept of microprocessor is essential to clarify the current debate around AI. Let me explain.

AI is one or more mechanism(s) assembled via a series of processes that allow for a very fast computation of information based on comparative analysis of embedded data points, some criteria factors, paths created when programming the algorithms needed to compute vast amounts of information. In essence, it is a process based on mechanisms of computation with a sprinkle of pathways created to reach an outcome. This matters, particularly when one considers today’s debate centred around the concept of AI taking over human capabilities. A.I. is a process designed to serve a purpose. Lacking the purpose, the whole thing falls flat on its face! No A.I. system spontaneously ask itself questions. No system has a specific purpose other than being a series of mechanisms used to process information, not to define a purpose.

It is, by inception, a mechanism, not an organism. It is not self-generated, it is not born nor die, or need to reproduce to survive. Organisms do. We (humans) do. Therefore, we should be careful in using certain terminology with the correct accuracy. There are many forms of organic intelligences. In fact, not long ago what we now call A.I. was referred to as ….. As  Stanford University describes it “The seeds of modern AI were planted by philosophers who attempted to describe the process of human thinking as the mechanical manipulation of symbols. This work culminated in the invention of the programmable digital computer in the 1940s, a machine based on the abstract essence of mathematical reasoning” (Stanford University Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, Prof. Christopher Manning, 2020). So if we look at A.I. as a process made of mechanisms designed by humans intent to achieve specific results we see a different picture to the alarmist, end of the world one that has been so often publicised.

As a matter of fact, the human is and remains at the centre of the AI purpose. The Human will decide the process and what the machines factors have to be applied, compiled or excluded to reach the outcome of a vast data volume. That matters as it highlights that whenever we use AI to justify a decision, we are actually using our own decision based on our own decision. If we are looking at it this way then the common sense of any decision analysis would be applied and we would revert back to the good old: it is not because one can that one must. In other words, if a company decided that vit introduces A.I. to do the work of 10 employees in a more efficient and less expensive manner, it is a human decision based on profit and return analysis, the purpose of that business is therefore to make money or increase margins. The process they will use to achieve their purpose is the introduction of a process based mechanism, manifested in a software. As simple as that. So if we call things with their appropriate designation, the understanding of the current business AI trend would certainly have a lesser mystic appreciation.      

Simon Vumbaca

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