Voices in AI – Episode 65: A Conversation with Luciano Floridi

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About this Episode

Episode 65 of Voices in AI features host Byron Reese and Luciano Floridi discuss ethics, information, AI and government monitoring. They also dig into Luciano’s new book “The Fourth Revolution” and ponder how technology will disrupt the job market in the days to come. Luciano Floridi holds multiple degrees including a PhD in philosophy and logic from the University of Warwick. Luciano currently is a professor of philosophy and ethics of information, as well as the director of Digital Ethics Lab at the University of Oxford. Along with his responsibilities as a professor, Luciano is also the chair of the Data Ethics Group at the Alan Turing Institute.
Visit www.VoicesinAI.com to listen to this one-hour podcast or read the full transcript.

Transcript Excerpt

Byron Reese: This is Voice in AI, brought to you by GigaOm, I’m Byron Reese. Today our guest is Luciano Floridi, he is a professor of philosophy and ethics of information, and the director at the Digital Ethics Lab at the University of Oxford. In addition to that, he is the chair at the Data Ethics Group at the Alan Turing Institute. Among multiple degrees, he holds a Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy and logic from the University of Warwick. Welcome to the show, Luciano.
Luciano Floridi: Thank you for having me over.
I’d like to start with a simple question which is: what is intelligence, and by extension, what is artificial intelligence?
Well this is a great question and I think one way of getting away with a decent answer, is to try to understand, what’s the lack of intelligence. So that you recognize it by spotting when there isn’t intelligence around.
So, imagine you are, say, nailing something on the wall and all of a sudden you hit your finger. Well, that was stupid, that was a lack of intelligence, it would have been intelligent not to do that. Or, imagine that you get all the way to the supermarket and you forgot your wallet so you can’t buy anything, well that was also stupid, so you would need intelligence to take your wallet. You can multiply that by, shall we say, a million cases, so there are a million cases in which you can be, or—just to be more personal—I can be stupid, and therefore I can be intelligent by the other way around.
So intelligence is a way of, shall we say, sometimes, coping with the world in a way that is effective, successful, but it also can be so many other things. It’s not intelligent, or it would be intelligent not to talk to your friend about the wrong topic, because that’s not the right day. It is intelligent, or not very intelligent, to make sure that that party you organize, you don’t invite Mary and Peter because they can’t stand each other.
The truth is that we don’t have a definition for intelligence or vice versa, for the lack of it. But at this point, I can sort of recycle an old joke by one of the judges in the Supreme Court, I’m sure everyone listening to or reading this knows that very well, but always ask for a definition of pornography, as you know, he said, “I don’t have one, but I recognize it when I see it.” I think that that sounds good—we know when we’re talking to someone intelligent on a particular topic, we know when we are doing something stupid about a particular circumstance, and I think that that’s the best that we can do.
Now, let me just add one last point just in case, say, “Oh, well isn’t that funny that we don’t have a definition for such a fundamental concept?” No it isn’t. In fact, most of the fundamental concepts that we use, or experiences we have, don’t have a definition. Think about friendship, love, hate, politics, war, on and on. You start getting a sense of, okay, I know what we’re talking about, but this is not like water equal to H2O, it’s not like a triangle is a figure with a plain of three sides and three angles, because we’re not talking about simple objects that we can define in terms of necessary and sufficient condition, we’re talking about having criteria to identify what it looks like to be intelligent, what it means to behave intelligently. So, if I really have to go out of my way and provide a definition—intelligence is nothing, everything is about behaving intelligently. So, let’s get an adverb instead of a noun.
I’m fine with that. I completely agree that we do have all these words, like, “life” doesn’t have a consensus definition, and “death” doesn’t have a consensus definition and so forth, so I’m fine with leaving it in a gray area. That being said, I do think it’s fair to ask how big of a deal is it—is it a hard and difficult thing, there’s only a little bit of it, or is it everywhere? If your definition is about coping with the world, then plants are highly intelligent, right? They will grow towards light, they’ll extend their roots towards water, they really cope with the world quite well. And if plants are intelligent, you’re setting a really low bar, which is fine, but I just want to kind of think about it. You’re setting a really low bar, intelligence permeates everything around us.
That’s true. I mean, you can even say, well look the way the river goes from that point to that point, and reaches the sea through the shortest possible path, well, that looks intelligent. I mean, remember that there was a past when we thought that precisely because of this reason, and many others, plants were some kinds of gods, and the river was a kind of god, that it was intelligent, purposeful, meaningful, goal-oriented, sort of activity there, and not simply a good adaptation, some mechanism, cause and effect. So what I wanted to detach here, so to speak, is our perception of what it looks like, and what it actually is.
Suppose I go back home, and I find that the dishes have been cleaned. Well, do I know whether the dishes have been cleaned by the dishwasher or by, say, my friend Mary? Well, looking at the dishes, I cannot. They’re all clean, so the output looks pretty much the same, but of course the two processes have been very different. One thing requires some intelligence on Mary’s side, otherwise she would break things and so on, waste soap, and so on. And the other one is, well, simple dishwashing machine, so, zero intelligence as far as I’m concerned—of the kind that we’ve been discussing, you know, that goes back to the gray area, the pornography example, and so on.
I think what we can do here is to say, look, we’re really not quite sure about what intelligence means. It has a thousand different meanings we can apply to this and that, if you really want to be inclusive, even a river’s intelligence, why not? The truth is that when we talk about our intelligence, well then we have some kind of a meter, like a criteria to measure, and we can say, “Look, this thing is intelligent, because had it been done by a human being, it would have required intelligence.” So, they say, “Oh, that was a smart way of doing things,” for example, because had that been left to a human being, well I would have been forced to be pretty smart.
I mean, chess is a great example today—my iPhone is as idiotic, as my grandmother’s fridge, you know zero intelligence of the sort we’ve been discussing here, and yet, it plays better chess than almost anyone I can possibly imagine. Meaning? Meaning that we have managed to detach the ability to pursue a particular goal, and been successful in implementing a process from the need to be intelligent. It doesn’t have to be to be successful.
Listen to this one-hour episode or read the full transcript at www.VoicesinAI.com
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Byron explores issues around artificial intelligence and conscious computers in his new book The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity.

Uber starts releasing transit data to cities

Following a conflict with New York City over its ride data, Uber has begun giving some of its transit information to Boston in a pilot program. It’s using ZIP codes as the basis for the place-based information, and it’s anonymizing some of the details to protect riders and passengers.

In a blog post, Uber suggested that Boston would serve as a trial for the program before the company expands it to other cities. Uber isn’t handing over any pricing details, but it is giving cities information on every ride’s drop off and pick up ZIP codes, the time of day each occurred, distance and time of each trip, and “technical support” for combing through the data.

As Gigaom’s Derrick Harris noted in a previous post on the company’s data strategy, “Uber certainly appears to see data as an important arrow in its quiver as it fights for legitimacy in cities around the world.” In the past it has hand-selected which data sets to release, publishing a blog post to prove it wasn’t discriminating against low-income riders in Chicago and months later publishing information to argue that Boston should extend its public transit hours.

However, this is the first time the company has agreed to give ongoing data information on key topics to a city government.

New York will be glad to hear it given that its Taxi & Limousine Tribunal recently suspended five out of six Uber bases for not handing over trip data. Uber is still in negotiations with NYC’s Taxi and Limousine Commission over it. Local governments want the information because it helps them plan everything from public transit routes to traffic patterns to emergency response protocols. It also allows regulators to ensure that transportation companies aren’t discriminating against people in certain neighborhoods.

Until now, Uber had resisted giving its data away, citing concerns about trade secrets. Trade secrets could mean a lot of things, but as some have pointed out, Uber was probably worried, in part, about local governments using Uber data to help taxis work more efficiently.

No, you really do need a CIO…and now!

For those that follow my writing, this post may have a familiar ring to it. Unfortunately, there is a reason I’m writing about this yet again as the point still eludes many.

The curious case of Acme Inc

Take a recent example for Acme Inc (company name changed). Acme is a mid-sized organization without a CIO. I spoke with the CEO and another member of the executive team that were trying to solve tactical technology and information problems on their own. In this case, Acme is experiencing solid growth of 50% CAGR. They believed they were being strategic in their technology decisions. The truth was far from it. It was painfully apparent they were way out of their wheelhouse, but didn’t realize it. In a way, they were naive that the decisions they were making were locking them into a path where, near-term, the company would not remain competitive. But they didn’t know that. They were looking to solve a technology problem to support their immediate growth trajectory without thoughtfulness of the opportunity. They were also relying too heavily on their technology providers whom they believed had the company in their best interests. Unfortunately, this is not a fictitious story of what could happen to a fictitious company. It is a real situation that occurred with a real company. And sadly it is one of many.

Trust is incredibly important in business today. There is no question. But as one mentor once taught me many years ago: Trust, but verify. In the immortal words of Deming “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

What is a CIO?

What is a CIO and do I need one? This is a question that many chief executives ask as their business evolves. I addressed a similar question about the CDO in ‘Rise of the CDO…do you need one?’ last year.

For small to mid-size enterprises, the conversation is not taking place soon enough. Many are still contemplating how to task the IT manager or director with more responsibility. Or worse yet, the responsibilities are being shared across the executive team. In one example outlined below, the results can be catastrophic.

So, when do you get your first CIO? And if you have a CIO, do you still need one? Isn’t the CIO’s role simply about managing the computers? In a word, no.

Do I need a CIO?

The short answer to this is yes. From small to large enterprises, the need for a CIO is greater today than ever before. Many will see a CIO and their organization as a cost center that eats into the bottom line. If so, that is a very short-sided view. Today’s CIO is very strategic in nature.

More than ever, business relies heavily on technology. But more than the technology itself, it is how it is applied and leveraged that makes the difference. The how relies heavily on context around business value and applicability. It requires someone, the CIO, to make the connection between business value across multiple disciplines and the technology itself.

Can other executives provide this capability? No. They can provide a different caliber of tactical implementation, but not the cross-functional strategic perspective that a CIO brings to the table. And it is this cross-functional strategic perspective that brings significant value to differentiate companies.

Information is the currency of business. It is what drives business decisions that will affect the success and failures across a myriad of dimensions. The CIO is the best position to understand, drive and expose value from information. The value of the information

What does CIO stand for?

This seems like a perennial subject. What does the ‘I’ in CIO stand for? Information? Innovation? Inspiration? Integration? The bottom line is that the I stands for the same thing is has always stood for; Information. Today’s business is driven by information. Technology is simply an enabler to leverage information. Integration, innovation, etc are all functional means to drive the value of information to a company.

If information is gold, what is technology? Technology is similar to the mining and refining equipment to extract and process the gold. Without it, the gold may be discovered, but in small quantities using ineffective means. A major factor in today’s business is speed. Access to information quickly is paramount.

The evolving role of the CIO

The CIO’s role (past and present) is far more complicated that many appreciate. A CIO is really a business leader that happens to have responsibility for IT. In addition, a CIO is really a CEO with a technology focus. A CIO is strategically focused and able to traverse the entire organization at the C-level. That last attribute requires a level of experience very different from the traditional CIO.

In the case of Acme, a CIO would be a great asset moving forward.

Everything you need to know about the recent Snapchat leaks

It has been a dramatic 24 hours for Snapchat, which had some internal emails leaked last night via the Sony hack. Sony Entertainment’s CEO, Michael Lynton, sits on Snapchat’s board.

There’s been dozens of articles about all the information surfaced, reported on (mostly) by Business Insider. Some of the details were legitimate product news, others  provided a glimpse into the mind of its 24-year-old CEO Evan Spiegel. Snapchat has historically been a private company and done little media outreach. So the document dump is one of the more comprehensive looks at its vision.

In a statement released today, Spiegel said he was “devastated” by the privacy violation and felt like he was “going to cry all morning.” He explained that he believes keeping secrets, although difficult, is key for a company’s development so it can “work free from judgment” and “feel safe in our expression and creativity.”

To give you the quick rundown on all the news, we put together this list of everything you need to know about the Snapchat leaks. Most of it is not hugely groundbreaking, but there’s definitely some compelling nuggets for those following the social media company and its meteoric rise.

News

1) It looks like Snapchat acquired a company called Vergence Labs for $15 million, which makes eyeglass frames akin to Google Glass that can record and store video. It’s not clear why Snapchat wanted it.

2) Snapchat bought an iBeacon/QR code company called Scan.Me for $50 million. Another confusing, currently inexplicable purchase. (This news came from TechCrunch)

2) Snapchat paid $30 million for video tech startup AddLive. The deal had previously been reported, but not the sum Snapchat paid.

2) Facebook may have bid even more than $3 billion for Snapchat based on emails between author Malcolm Gladwell and Lynton. Gladwell asked if the company was crazy and Lynton responded, “If you knew the real number you would book us all a suite at Bellvue.” Other messages suggest that Mark Zuckerberg believed Evan Spiegel was behind the leak of the news, and he wasn’t happy about it.

3) Snapchat considered starting a music label this past summer. Emails showed that Spiegel wants to use Snapchat to promote musicians from a Snapchat-run label. But after Snapchat’s partnership plans with Vevo fell apart (because Snapchat wanted too high an advertising revenue cut), the plan stalled.

3) Evan Spiegel seems to have insulted Tencent by asking to take $40 million personally through a secondary offering and not informing board member Mitch Lasky from Benchmark. “They didn’t like the fact that I didn’t know what was happening … part of what gives them comfort at the high valuations is knowing that someone they trust — me — is fully engaged on the board,” Lasky said in an email to Lynton. Tencent also wasn’t pleased with the $4 billion valuation Spiegel was aiming for. The Chinese internet company appears to have passed on a followup funding deal because of that.

Behind-the-scenes

1) Various VCs expressed excitement over Snapchat because it’s seeing high, passionate engagement from its users. “I am not overstating it when I say that Snapchat’s utility requires hours of your time a day,”Jerry Murdock from Insight Venture Partners told Lynton. “Snapchat’s stickiness is very real.” In an email, Spiegel explained that he doesn’t think the app’s advantage is teens or its threat to Facebook — it’s the fact that it has pioneered a new form of messaging.

2) After Evan Spiegel gave a public speech, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo emailed Lynton singing his praises. He said, “I really think [Spiegel] is one of the best product thinkers out there right now.”

3) Despite the fact that Spiegel is stereotypically seen as a reckless bro who lucked into running such a successful company (see: his sexist college frat emails), his emails suggest otherwise. In one message to Lynton, he penned a comprehensive, dense analysis of market dynamics to explain why he thought Snapchat should stop fundraising and start building revenue streams. Other emails showed that Spiegel was reaching out to category experts (like the now Twitter CFO Anthony Noto) for further education.

And now you’re caught up! This is a living document, and as more Sony leaks emerge we’ll continue to update with relevant Snapchat information.

Did social media make the situation in Ferguson better or worse?

Even though Twitter and other forms of social media help spread misinformation and falsehoods in the aftermath of events like the shooting in Ferguson, they also allow the truth to circulate far more quickly and widely than it would have before

The decline of Wikipedia

http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/520446/the-decline-of-wikipedia/

It’s no secret that the community behind Wikipedia is insular, methodical and bureaucratic. But the high barriers of entry that Wikipedians have established to keep the website’s millions of pages under control are now coming back to haunt them, according to an in-depth feature by MIT Technology Review. There simply aren’t enough people to regulate and edit the firehose of information — both correct and incorrect — to keep to the high standard the community sets for itself, much less be a reliable encyclopedia. That insular group is going to need to open up, or risk collapsing under the weight of its own system.

How social media is rewriting the rules of modern warfare

In the past, information flow during a military campaign was mostly controlled by the armies involved, but now that everyone has the ability to publish and distribute data including photos and videos, it changes the nature of attacks like the latest Israeli campaign against Hamas.