Can we accept the inhuman side of AI?

Picture by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Errare artificialis est

An instrinsic characteristic of AI methods that are based on machine learning is that they will never be perfect — they have a certain error rate. On the first sight, this is nothing to worry about as humans also have a certain error rate. So, all is good, if the error rate of an AI system is smaller than that of real persons? Not quite, there is a number of problems with this approach.

The reference class problem

A common approach for rating the performance of an AI system is to compare it to the accuracy of humans. This approach is derived from the idea of the so-called Turing Test. The problem with it is, that each person is different and one has to select an adequate and acceptable reference performance. Now, this could be the median of a representative reference group, it could be the world champion in this matter or it could be an abitrary person from the street. In any case, the selection seems to be arbitrary. In publications, of course, authors tend to make their new method look good by choosing a reference which is sufficiently worse.

The perfect machine problem

For many centuries, mankind is constructing machines to relieve itself from hard work, to get things done faster or to get things done better. A machine is expected to yield a benefit in form of saved time, better quality, or ideally both. Since a machine is normally using well-defined machanisms, it is expected that it creates reproducible results of the expected high quality.

The inacceptable error problem

Machine learning algorithms are designed to automatically extract the relevant information from the training material to fulfill their tasks, e.g. classification. The features that these algorithms decide to use, will most probably not be the same as those, a natural person would pick. This makes it really hard for users to understand and accept erroneous behavior of AI systems.

The future of AI

I am not an AI opponent. The opposite is true. I am convinced that there is a huge potential for the application of AI methods. However, I believe, there are certain limits, we will have to accept, when we want to AI systems to make decisions for us that can have severe consequences.

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