This book, written by friends, is an attempt to cover a topic as vast, complex and obscure as Artificial Intelligence (AI). We set out to accomplish that in a way that makes the domain approachable to responsible intellectuals worldwide: at the very least, we tried to ask the right questions and suggest a course of action. BetweenBrains was also inspired by our NASA cross-industry innovation community, that for many years have proved that the most in-depth, breakthrough innovation comes from other industries, sectors, disciplines and philosophies.
In line with this conviction, our work is going far beyond pure technology and is very much multi-disciplinary in its perspective. This is exactly the way we see AI emerging both as a cross-disciplinary field of study and as applied usage that cuts across artificial disciplinary borders and walks of life alike. Our mission is to bridge minds, state some hard truths and provoke thoughts for joint understanding and far better collaboration. We had to be mindful of necessary tradeoffs, so we ended up opting for cross-pollination and breadth to instigate a global conversation on AI. We believe that we can further deepen some of the most exciting directions in forthcoming volumes as deemed necessary by you, the kind reader. Also, our primary goal was to pinpoint all that is already happening now or is around the corner, so that we could build trajectories and scenarios based on the best data and wisdom that we currently possess.
Regarding the timeline being scrutinized, our view is that AI is here and is impacting our world to a great extent: therefore, we should focus on the now and the near-term. Unlike any previous waves of technology transformation, the depth of this coming one is unprecedented. AI is transformational across the board and makes us revisit fundamental questions on humanity. It will test our ability to adapt and may also trigger a higher level of attention to lessons from nature.
Beyond a pure technology lens, we believe that the AI aspects that deserve most of our attention are its power and impact. We are approaching this in a balanced way, both philosophically and through demonstrating applied AI use cases in a wide range of industries. Talking about our emphasis on balance, we are convinced that both optimism and pessimism are futile terms to associate with AI: we have to uncover the truth and for that, cut through a dense jungle of obfuscation and distrust. With great potential comes great risk and both need deep understanding, new structures of trust and hard work for all of us.
In its present incarnations, AI may be narrow and brittle, but already deployed widely. The public worldwide has reacted to it with curiosity, concern and confusion. It is known to be very alluring to those who understand its promise and can also foot the bill. We are convinced that AI will serve as the most important instrument of power redistribution in the 21st century. Moreover, AI is the core of exponential transformation: soon all technology will be AI-powered.
The primary question of our age is: who gets to shape AI? To be prepared and to be able to participate in steering its course, one should learn its nature, power principles, state of play, and plausible scenarios. In addition to a sweeping analysis, we explore the realms of policy, war and religion as future case studies where opportunities abound but understanding tradeoffs and clear warning signs is critical.
As the first “moral technology”, AI is not neutral. The ethical consequences of AI development are playing catchup with those who dictate the fastest possible pace in both research and deployment. We will put the limelight on these ethical aspects and cutting-edge research directions that would ensure a humanistic course for machine intelligence. Most pragmatically, in the timeliest subdomain of AI impact on democratic institutions and the public dialogue, we even attempted to include policy recommendations that may have relevance in other subdomains as well.
This book would not be wholesome without a solution framework that gets humanity prepared for AI-readiness. We are submitting a comprehensive vision, principles and institutional building blocks for constructive, global debate and implementation: it is in the shape of a manifesto that concludes this book.
While we are no neuroscientists, our title was originally borrowed from neuroscience: the betweenbrain (diencephalon) is a small but important part of the central nervous system. It is a collection of structures that play a number of critical roles in our health, including functions as diverse as circadian rhythms (sleep and consciousness) regulation, reward processing, movement modulation, sensory data processing, hormone secretion and most importantly, maintaining homeostasis – system equilibrium in the body. On top of that, in our intention, the title hints at the intricate interplay between human and machine intelligence that, we believe, will define our future to a great extent. In this setup, contrary to the dominant narrative, nothing is inevitable. The “inbetween-ness” of our age also equals an opportunity to make clear choices on what AI objectives we as a society want to achieve, what should be its public-interest purpose, and what choices and actions will take us there. Ultimately, we are firm proponents of Augmented Intelligence as the motto – the less “artificial” it is, the better off human civilization will be.
We can only hope that the reader will feel more clear-sighted and better equipped for the AI Age once our work has been perused. We wish you an enjoyable reading time: please do not hold back your imagination.
Omar & George
As children, we are all asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We think of different things at different times, depending on what excites us, what is fashionable, what might impress other people. Perhaps you went on to do exactly what you hoped you would – but did it happen in exactly the way you expected? Imagining the future is not easy, and in some ways in this book we are asking what humanity wants to be when it grows up. We see some crucial choices coming, and some decisions that have already been made on our behalf. We want individuals, families, companies, societies, and states to take an active role in what comes next. Why? Because the new wave of change enabled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a profound impact on society, our jobs, our health, and our politics.
What are the challenges and opportunities AI brings? As we will see, some are being addressed at different levels – by companies wanting to make money, by researchers looking for better solutions for everyday problems, by countries and organizations hoping to maintain society’s values in a parallel digital world. But there is more than just AI to take into account. For example, until now, no significant discussions have taken place regarding how population increases, and exponential technological advancement taken together have created a perfect storm for a shift and disruption to our future society and economic models. The narrative in the following chapters will touch on just a few of the seismic effects that AI could bring today and in the coming decades.
Do you remember your day-to-day life when you first started school or started working? How many of the tools you use every day now existed then? Now think what a child born in 2020 will see in their lifetime. It’s hard to imagine what the world will look like in 20 or 50 years, given the unprecedented acceleration in technological development and adoption, especially in the fields of data science and computational power. In stark contrast, if we turn the clock back 2,000 years, a prediction of what the world would look like in 50, 100, or even 1,000 years from that time would have been a relatively simple task.
Take for example, preeminent Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle, who lived 2,400 years ago. His philosophy exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge and his introduction of the method of scientific thinking is still relevant today. He had an especially brilliant mind but was working in a time when change was slower. If we consider the state of technological maturity of those times, Aristotle may have been able to imagine – and even adapt to – the way of living in the world 1,300 years after his time, when another great polymath, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), lived. Ibn Sina was regarded as one of the most influential physicians, thinkers, and astronomers of his time, and considered by many to be the father of modern medicine. We think Ibn Sina would have been able to envision and adapt to life in the 15th century, had he suddenly found himself a few hundred years into the future.
Perhaps the visionary who was most ahead of his time in predicting and designing early technological concepts several centuries ahead of his era was Leonardo da Vinci. The Italian polymath was born in 1452 and has long been regarded as the model Renaissance man and a prolific inventor. Leonardo was revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualized a bewildering number of inventions including technologies like flying machines, and armored fighting vehicles. Da Vinci may have also designed what may have been the very first humanoid robot by mobilizing a mechanized armored knight using gears and wheels connected to a pulley that enabled the basic “robot” to perform limited movements. However, due to the lack of scientific technology and advanced materials, his inventions were not feasible during that era, and his technological concepts remained unmaterialized. We might not be as creative as these individuals, but we are going to need to start thinking as they did to adapt to the pace of change that is coming.
We have advanced so much as a modern civilization that it is difficult to make sense of the fact that, just 100 years ago, Western society used horses as the primary means of transportation. Labor-saving machines brought radical change to factories and homes in the 19th and early 20th century, and in recent decades computers have been having a similar influence.
Unprecedented from the previous 2,000 years of human technological evolution, the present times are characterized by rapid, non-linear improvements in enabling technologies such as AI and Machine Learning (ML). ML is a branch of artificial intelligence that is based on the premise that the system can learn from data.
Into The Labyrinth
For the first time ever, the circular and the incremental forces of history have been upset by the open-ended exponential. Of these exponential forces, AI dwarfs all others in its transformational potential. We believe that due to the proximity of machines that think and learn, many rules will be rewritten – and be rewritten continuously.
AI has landed during a human age of mass disruption, fragmentation, disarray, and ethical rudderlessness. While this aspect is still not widely debated in public, we believe that recent political upheavals were considerably due to that explosive concoction of rising insecurity, inequality, and meaninglessness, that are, by and large, a byproduct of the digital realm taking over. Much more directly than the opaque effects of the digital, another factor and ugly truth is the subtle rise of job automation that has been emerging in several industries since the mid-90s – but accelerating exponentially and expanding since then. This automation may be well be a crawling phenomenon, but speeding up with widespread AI commercialization. We believe that we are very close to the point where people in society at large will join the dots between these phenomena. Our responsibility will be to steer the public uproar towards a real dialogue, to directions both truthful and beneficial, focusing on a shared civilizational vision coupled with pragmatic solutions. As discussed earlier, it is not the first time that humans have faced a challenge from machines, and there are many positive possibilities as well.
As a consequence of the magnitude of the coming shift, this era should be one of deep reflection – but that introspective process by no means equals idle chatter for years. There is no shortage of cheerleaders who praise only (or mostly) the massive productivity, efficiency, and profitability benefits of the AI Shift – but it is our intellectual and moral responsibility not to turn into pure hype-mongers. To put a first stake in the ground, it is our sincere belief that if this rise and proliferation stays uncontrolled or laissez-faire, it will exponentially strengthen negative trends we see at present and primarily empower actors with dubious interests. AI’s beneficial outcomes are a possibility that we need to work for; some of its dangers are already a certainty that we have to manage and protect ourselves against.
The old World Order is crumbling, the new one has not yet been born, and labor seems to be very painful this time. Most descriptors of our age are “post-” this and that, but current AI is certainly “pre-”, both in its own technological maturity and in its context, with its broader social environment being in flux. Especially in today’s socio-psychological climate, the rebalancing act that we’ll have to deliver as a civilization, on all fronts, is tremendous – and very much behind schedule. There is a huge magnitude of Al-related information available, but ungraspable to the public. There are big gaps in understanding even at the top echelons of power. We can see special interest-driven interpretations and omissions. In addition, the prevalent media practice continues to frame public AI discourse in a sensationalist way. All these factors acting in concert do not seem to help at all.
Another dismissive attitude and statement pattern we have experienced much too often is that AI is “just another wave of technology-driven transformation,” that is, if “we as a society” figured out the combustion engine, oil, or data, we will be fine. (Actually, did we figure them all out? How do we measure figuring something out? By not going extinct?) Our work needs to demonstrate how wildly different this transformation will be, compared with all others that went before.
How is AI different? Our intention should be now focused on making sense of the distinguishing specifics of AI technology. Let us name a few key principles with the intent of busting some myths – all in the hope that the reader will find them helpful.
The promise of Al has finally captivated the attention of political leaders and their administrations. The choices, roles, and responsibilities of government can take shape in that of the regulator; the provider of automated, augmented, and connected public services; the convener and mediator between AI stakeholders; and ultimately, that of elected leaders setting the future AI course for society.
AI gains include radical augmentation in the efficiency of the broadest possible array of country management and public services: healthcare, transport, urban living management, citizen administration, disaster forecasting, and so much more. Taking a deeper look at the types of public service use cases, we can identify mission-focused programmatic uses (e.g. augmented inspection and enforcement capabilities, or surveillance both in epidemics and public safety), or citizen customer engagement like automating management of forms, appointment scheduling eligibility determinations, and chatbots serving 24/7 with capabilities like real-time translation by default. Less visible to citizens, a lot is expected from augmenting the efficiency of back-office operations with the likes of fraud predictions and automating validations, verifications, document handling and reporting. The efficiency of these systems can be augmented manifold with AI and stay exponential with the right governance structures.
Al also holds the promise of fluid policymaking for the first time in history: being able to respond to citizens’ needs in the very short term – even in real time if need be. AI-based forecasting also equips governments with long-term planning capabilities that traditionally had been the Achilles’ heel of democratic governments due to changes of personnel and ruling parties following elections (among many other reasons).
These efficiency boosts are estimated by PwC to yield a global GDP growth of 14%, amounting to $15.7 trillion by 2030. Governments can collect and access vast swaths of data and with the right level of data sophistication, theoretically this alone can fuel almost utopian models of societal prosperity and just governance. If it is in good hands. And that can be a big “if.”
Two competing forces will determine the course of societies’ will when it comes to AI: the ingrained challenges and trade-offs determined by the current AI paradigm and the trajectories foreseen by stakeholders. There are pros and cons of each element (security vs. privacy, efficiency vs. liberty etc.) when it comes to AI technologies. The other factor is of a moral nature: how will societal value systems shape the buildup of AI states, and will governments keep their eyes on citizens’ interests without giving in to the more sinister urges that Al can fulfill, with a high price to be paid by society.
Value systems will always be the backbone of any national AI strategy: let us take two drastically opposing approaches to governmental AI visions and use.
DR. OMAR HATAMLEH is the Former Chief Innovation Officer, Engineering at NASA, and former Executive Director of the Space Studies Program at International Space University. Prior to that he was the Deputy Chief Scientist at NASA ARC responsible for identifying new and promising areas of scientific research and supporting technologies that can be integrated into the Center's capabilities. Omar is also the President of the Infinity Institute, a global non-profit Think Tank tasked with developing disruptive solutions for healthcare. Omar has been at NASA for 23 years in different roles, and has published over 33 international journal articles in Engineering. Omar has been the recipient of several prestigious awards and recognitions from NASA including the Silver Achievement Medal, NASA Innovation, and Superior Achievement Awards. He has four engineering degrees, speaks four languages, and has been an invited keynote speaker to multiple national and international events including major innovation conferences, Google, IBM, European Investment Fund, etc.
DR. GEORGE A. TILESCH is a senior global innovation and AI expert who is a conduit and trusted advisor between the US and EU ecosystems, specializing in AI Strategy, Ethics, Impact, Policy, and Governance. Most recently, he was Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Global Affairs at Ipsos, a global Top 3 research firm, where he led the Digital Impact & Governance research and advisory practice and coordinated AI thought leadership. His global senior executive and strategy consulting leadership track record span decades with government leaders worldwide; Microsoft and Fortune 50 Tech corporations; international organizations and global think tanks; startups/scaleups; and global social innovation leaders. A senior consultant and frequent keynote speaker at major innovation conferences and a guest lecturer at US and EU universities, George is leading an AI Policy Working Group for Club De Madrid-World Leadership Alliance on AI, Trust & Democracy and is involved in multiple World Economic Forum Experts Groups, designing AI government strategy, and AI regulatory frameworks.
"The book is a must-read for policymakers and political leaders who wish to understand what principles should guide AI development, as well as presenting a useful map of key AI issues to a more general audience. "
"We already live in an AI-driven world. Narrow AI is ubiquitous in the devices we carry on us and is a core part of many of the systems we use to acquire knowledge, to purchase goods and to communicate with friends and family. And while artificial general intelligence still feels far away, more general, contextually-aware systems are making good progress, and, as the Covid-19 pandemic is demonstrating, humans are always surprised by the nature of exponential processes.(...) Where Hatamleh and Tilesch's book stands out is the way in which it combines a discussion of the technological and industrial aspects of AI with historical and philosophical perspectives that seek to confront the discrepancy between how AI is portrayed by technology leaders in public, and how they discuss it in private. They tackle AI ethics, governance, geopolitics, the impact on democracy and links with authoritarianism, religion and the nature of consciousness. They don't shy away from difficult topics or controversial conclusions. (...) Where I most wholeheartedly concur is is when they say "The AI future needs moral as well as technology leadership." Their final chapter is a manifesto for AI stewardship. Like all final chapters in books of this type, it lays out a set of interesting frameworks and ideas that themselves could fit an entire book. I hope they write that one too."
“...Betweenbrains” is a remarkably researched, thoughtful broadside telling us to pay attention now. The wolf is here, or is a wolf at all? It’s something big and hairy and we need to figure it out, for ourselves in our own lifetimes and for future generations who will live with your decisions. A real wakeup call.(...) Instead of a rant, they offer us a thoroughly researched, closely reasoned and remarkably comprehensive analysis of how AI will play out across the range of industries, the range of social practices and the range of social and ethical concerns. If there was one insight that stuck to my bones it is this: We need to think, advocate and regulate as if AI were at full warp operational speed already."
"BetweenBrains is a very important book in the age of exponentially developing AI. I would highly recommend it to all, but especially to policymakers, decision-makers, and of course, to experts and practitioners of various AI areas and verticals. What is inevitable is our shared responsibility to steer AI, since its applications and implications are here and now, not in the distant future."
"BetweenBrains is a thoughtful exploration of the opportunities and challenges of AI. A great read especially for any non-technical reader who needs to understand the implications of the coming wave of "AI everywhere": the impact on business models, political systems, and ultimately on our planetary society as a whole. Particular focus is on the human aspects of the issue, and the ethical implications of our choices - or lack thereof - when it comes to AI. It ends with a passionate appeal to create a new system of AI governance that transcends not just single actors but also national boundaries - the kind of systems we need to tackle humanity's "wicked problems" of the century to come."