Home > Uncategorized > Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Mental Health and Well Being, and the Limits of Efficiency

Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Mental Health and Well Being, and the Limits of Efficiency

July 6, 2018

As a Buddhist practitioner, a retired educator who witnessed the expansion of technology in public education, and a blogger who has “efficiency is the enemy” as a tag, I was drawn to a Medium interview by Brian Walsh titled “The Chinese Buddhist Billionaire Who Wants to Fix Your Brain“. This billionaire in question is Chen Tianqiao who founded the online gaming company Shanda in 1999 and cashed in a decade later in large measure because he had a cancer scare, multiple panic attacks, and a sense that his life had no meaning.

The article opens with a response to a question that offers a brief biographical sketch of Mr. Tianqiao, which also includes an overview of his perspective of Buddhism.

Mr. Walsh follows with a series of questions that yield some thought-provoking insights. His response to one of the questions posed by Mr. Walsh was particularly compelling:

Right now we teach machines only one value statement: efficiency. The machine optimizes the efficient. The machine always knows how to quickly find the best way. But if the machine ruled the world, it must say, “Kill all the old men and sick people because of their weight on resources,” right? So we have to teach the machines fairness and compassion. But how do we do that when we don’t know how to define them?

Later Mr. Walsh explores Mr. Tianqiao’s ideas on the relationship between technology and our general well being… and Mr. Tianqiao’s perspective is that technology is outpacing humanity’s adaptability and that, in turn, is leading to an increase in mental health problems.. including suicides.

You have a phone in your hand that can connect you to anyone. You can get a thing done in one minute that 10 or 20 years ago would have taken you a month. This is the pace we live at now. But I believe people have a limitation on their capacity for connection. You don’t know how to handle these relationships. The speed of information. There’s so much information flooding into your brain, and your brain has to judge yes or no, because more and more people, with the help of a blast from technology, they also have a voice. There are so many different views flooding in your brain, and you have to judge what you like, what you want.

I say you run too fast. I cannot chase you. I just want you to stop. I want to stop you, right? This is technology. But we cannot just stop.

The article concludes with this question about the future of technology and Mr. Tianqiao’s somewhat pessimistic response response:

Ultimately, do you feel optimistic about the direction we’re going with technology and the brain? Do you think we’ll be able to make ourselves fitter and happier?

I cannot find an answer to this. That’s why I’m a little pessimistic. I think there are so many problems that are generated by technology. What I can do is try to use scientific ways to mitigate the possible consequence of that technology. But if we don’t do that, it could lead to very bad consequences.

When I gave money to an American university [CalTech], the Chinese media criticized me. But I think the current debate or current conflict is not between the people of one country and the people of another. This is our humanity.

In an era of tariff wars, the dissolution of longstanding alliances that stabilized relationships among relatively free countries, and the opportunities for technology moguls to make billions it is east to share Mr. Tianqiao’s pessimism… here’s hoping we can all see the our humanity is at stake as we continue expaning our use of technology.

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