It’s been a few weeks since the True North conference, but we’re still soaking in all the amazing content and conversations.
Over three days, leaders and influencers from around the world talked AI, the future of work, diversity, entertainment, and robots. People working in tech came to listen and contribute to the discussions.
We were among them – both onstage and listening from the audience. Here are some key takeaways that are relevant to AI and humans alike.
Say hello to co-bots, your AI-powered co-workers
AI and robotics were controversial topics this year – partly because of pop culture’s portrayal of them in a fear- and anxiety-inducing light, and partly because of the notion that both are an invasive force, here to take over our jobs (and eventually, the world).
But that’s not the case, argued a panel of experts. AI and robots might be our most powerful allies. We just need to learn to trust them.
For one, they’re becoming valuable coworkers, making our jobs – and our lives – easier. Embracing that change now sets us up for success down the road when bigger AI disruptions inevitably happen. One of the easiest and most effective ways to get started is through implementing automation in your organization so your humans can focus on doing human things.
We think this point is a particularly juicy one. As an AI company, we’re trying to spread the message and practice of AI for good, along with care and deliberation in the bots we build. (We also love the term “co-bots”!)
Humanity must come before technology
“Be human in a world of tech,” said Bozoma Saint John, then the CMO of Uber (she’s since moved to a CMO position with Endeavour). The main question that tech companies should be asking themselves, she says, is “how can we be more human?”
Putting our humanity at the center of technology will be what guides the #techforgood movement. That means not just asking whether a technology is useful, but whether it’s good, said former Governor General David Johnson.
It also means thinking about the ethos – the guiding motives – not just the ethics, said Marcel O’Gorman, who runs the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo. Considering who technology serves and who gets left behind will help us define what “tech for good” truly means.
And that’s not only in the sense of new and emerging technologies. We can’t miss the opportunities to make a positive difference in people’s lives and create meaningful change with the tech we have now.
Putting aside the question “can we build this?” and asking instead, “should we build this?” is a good place to start – and continue – this discussion.
Our relationship status with robots: it’s complicated
Mr. Spaghetti is a robot dinosaur – a PLEO rb to be exact – owned by MIT robot ethicist Kate Darling. Pick him up by the tail and he’ll become visibly (and audibly) agitated – something she’s demonstrated in interviews before.
And the usual response? People feel pretty bad about it, even if he is just a machine, and they’ll follow it up with a few comforting pets to the back.
That raises some questions: would we treat a robot that looks like a human differently from one that looks like a robot in the more traditional sci-fi sense?
Maybe that’s not the conversation you’d expect at a panel about entertainment and technology, but it was a powerful one nonetheless, shared by Spike Jonze, Oscar-winning director of Her, and Charlie Brooker, creator of the TV series Black Mirror.
We don’t have answers yet, but the fact is that our relationship with robots – humanoid or otherwise – will be extremely complex, with questions around ethical treatment and rights that will remain unanswered for the next little while.
There’s a voracious appetite for change
Given how many people participated in the event, the passion of the speakers and the warm embrace we received from our community here in Kitchener-Waterloo, one thing is clear: there’s a great thirst for connecting with each other, hashing out the issues and putting ideas into practice.
The end result of True North is the Tech for Good Declaration, a living document that outlines initial guiding principles forged through discussion and input from those who attended.
(We encourage everyone to read through the 6 main principles and the questions that are still unanswered.)
The declaration – and the conference as a whole – has given us lots of good ideas, and we can’t wait to share how we’ll put them into practice here at Kiite.