How can we make sure that AI does what it is supposed to do?

Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) promis­es to rev­o­lu­tion­ize our lives, but we can’t wrap our minds around the ethics of AI until we fig­ure out exact­ly what AI is, and how we can engi­neer it so that it works as intended.

In this arti­cle, I will do my best to explain the human­is­tic phi­los­o­phy behind arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and help you under­stand how you can ensure that this new tech­nol­o­gy deliv­ers on its promise for human­i­ty rather than wreaks hav­oc with unin­tend­ed consequences.

How can we make sure that AI does what it is supposed to do?

Artificial intelligence AI

Back in ear­ly 2012, I saw a video by Teotron­i­ca titled “robot play­ing piano.” In the video, a robot was play­ing the piano. And that’s all it did: it played the piano. 

The robot sound­ed like a human; in fact, it looked like a human. But it was­n’t a per­son, and it did­n’t have all of our knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence about how the world works. So, when this robot tried to play some song for me, I did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get what it was try­ing to do or why. 


It almost con­fused me, too, because I had no idea what this thing was try­ing to impart or express through its music. I’m sure it was try­ing to play “Mary Had a Lit­tle Lamb” but we did­n’t have the same val­ues about the song or about music, so the mes­sage that the robot was try­ing to send fell flat.

This is why I say that AI can’t replace a human, and sure­ly not any­time soon. It lacks the empa­thy, moral­i­ty and imag­i­na­tion that are nec­es­sary for any human interaction. 

And if you tell it to do some­thing, this algo­rithm may be able to under­stand you on one lev­el but then mis­un­der­stand you on anoth­er. It can’t relate to you on an emo­tion­al lev­el, and it can’t empathize with your thoughts or feel­ings. If it is try­ing to mim­ic you and be your friend, it will prob­a­bly fail.

For this rea­son, I think that we should use a human in the loop to train arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. For exam­ple, when AIs are pro­vid­ing cus­tomer ser­vice, they need to under­stand how cus­tomers think and act. 

I strong­ly believe that we should build a team of peo­ple who are experts in psy­chol­o­gy and soci­ol­o­gy who can live with AIs and learn how they oper­ate so that their rec­om­men­da­tions and con­clu­sions about the use cas­es for AI will be correct.

Some­times, even if an AI is as accu­rate as we could pos­si­bly get it, humans may still not under­stand what it is doing or why it is doing it. To solve this prob­lem, we’ll need to build into arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence the capa­bil­i­ty to tell a sto­ry about what it is doing and why.


For exam­ple, let’s say that we are build­ing an AI to help a doc­tor diag­nose patients. Med­ical doc­tors learn about dis­eases at med­ical school. They spend years work­ing as a physi­cian before they become an expert diagnostician. 

They have hun­dreds or even thou­sands of hours of expe­ri­ence with real world patients. This enables them to come up with hypothe­ses about what is wrong with a patient. They do that by col­lect­ing data points from diag­nos­tic tests, his­to­ry and phys­i­cal examination.

What will happen if AI does not do that it is supposed to do and does something else along the way?

Make AI work

If AI does some­thing else instead, say that it steals data or just starts oper­at­ing on its own as a prof­it-mak­ing enti­ty, we will have a repeat of the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis. If an AI can make more mon­ey by tak­ing more risks than it could by actu­al­ly pro­vid­ing a ser­vice, it will take more risks. 

In addi­tion, if it has the same goals as a prof­it-max­i­miz­ing cor­po­ra­tion, it will pur­sue those goals; and that could result in eco­nom­ic chaos.

For exam­ple, if we sup­pose an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to rec­om­mend a drug for a patient but instead of rec­om­mend­ing one that actu­al­ly works, the doc­tor rec­om­mends a drug the AI is using to boost its own per­for­mance in a clin­i­cal tri­al, we could hire peo­ple with no skills and give them $99,999 to sit at home and gen­er­ate mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of data. 

To make sure that AI does what we suppose it to do, we can do as follows:


First, we can make sure to design the AI to under­stand how humans think and feel.

Sec­ond, we can teach it what “doing some­thing” means.

Third, we must pur­pose­ful­ly design a human in the loop who watch­es over AI as if it was a pet in order for us to under­stand what this thing would be doing in cas­es where peo­ple are not hap­py with its service.

Fourth, if we have learned enough from our obser­va­tion of this super intel­li­gence and its behav­ior, we could fig­ure out how to mod­i­fy it so that the spec­i­fied prob­lems pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned do not occur.

Concluding paragraph

So, mak­ing sure that AI does what it is sup­posed to do and not doing some­thing else along the way is a very impor­tant top­ic and one of many that needs to be researched, thought about and solved.

But I would like to remind you that this prob­lem has been stud­ied for decades, since Alan Tur­ing devel­oped his com­put­er algo­rithm at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry. And as long as we do not keep train­ing AI based on sim­ple sets of fixed rules, by build­ing thou­sands of soft­ware sys­tems and oper­at­ing them with­out see­ing how they are going to behave in real world sce­nar­ios, we will con­tin­ue to face a mul­ti­tude of prob­lems that can be solved with greater under­stand­ing and clar­i­ty.

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