After all, it only took a tiny non-living virus to give us a crash course on humility and force us to look beyond our biology, social networks, culture and geography to ask our self “Who Am I?”
Despite those exotic travel plans that had to be cancelled, in the last few days we have collectively journeyed to the extreme borders of isolation, bungee jumped into bottomless pits of fear, surfed through raging waves of human suffering and scaled the highest peaks of solidarity.
In this desperate fight for survival, the main weapon we have deployed is intelligence. What we are witnessing is a spectacular collaboration of individual and collective human intelligence with Artificial intelligence.
As we deal with the fear of a biological apocalypse and watch booming businesses crash like a pile of bricks, will our fear of the other apocalypse of A.I taking over human lives and our jobs reduce to give way to more confidence in tech based collaborations?
Following are brief highlights of how individual, collective and artificial intelligence has helped our fight for survival against corona virus.
Artificial Intelligence :
Canadian health monitoring company Blue Dot’s A.I algorithms had predicted Corona virus long before it went viral and was officially declared as a threat.
Over the last few weeks, research teams worldwide have been using A.I to study big data to power breakthroughs in finding the elusive cure for corona virus.
A.I powered robots have been handing out face masks at airports sanitising infected areas. A.I powered drones are being used to fly in supplies to contaminated areas and track non compliance.
On the controversial note, China’s SenseTime uses facial recognition and thermal imaging to detect people who have a high body temperature. China also developed the much criticised Health Code that colour codes people based on a risk analysis of personal data available about them.
Collective Intelligence :
In the past few days, we have also witnessed the enormous potential of collective human intelligence augmented by A.I.
Research labs around the world are collectively sharing data collected on corona virus through open source publications.
Initiatives like One Giant Lab are crowd sourcing ideas from biology communities and bio hackers to develop a cost effective corona virus test, so that labs can easily produce test kits.
Researchers have mobilised scientists and the public to play an online game to build a protein that could block the virus from invading human cells. For this, a forum called Foldit is being used that has been crowd sourcing contributions for important protein research.
Activists on Reddit have bypassed pay walls to create an open archive of several research articles mentioning corona virus citing ethical reasons.
Organisations like World Health Organisation are compiling all published research on corona virus into a unified database.
Individual Intelligence :
At an individual level, while our biological vulnerability meant we had to self quarantine and deal with our individual existential crisis, A.I powered devices enabled us stay in touch with others and feel a greater sense of connection and start shifting from expecting the worst to hoping for the best.
Most people intelligently took balanced measures to self quarantine, follow prescribed hygiene measures, safeguard family members and equip themselves with authentic information from credible sources. The last few weeks have also shown extraordinary compassion and efficiency by people globally.
On the downside, there were several cases of racism, panic hoarding or believing unverified sources like WhatsApp forwards.
So, what does the future look like?
As our immunity towards corona virus hopefully increases, our resistance towards Artificial Intelligence is likely to decrease.
End of A.I apocalypse paranoia
Now that corona virus has underscored our biological vulnerability, our fear of A.I taking over our jobs is already giving way to more trust based human and tech based collaborations. However, A.I still needs to prove to the skeptics how it can really protect us and not pose a risk to us, despite its potential to do so.
Democratisation of A.I
There is also going to be a very important shift from a few tech companies understanding and controlling the use of A.I to the masses engaging more deeply with A.I instead of only browse — scroll — like — swipe. This will be a true democratisation of Artificial Intelligence as it should rightly be.
Companies like Elon Musks Open A.I and others like H20.ai have been trying to democratise A.I for a while already.
In the last few days several tech forums have been offering both discounted and free crash courses on Machine learning, coding, website designing, video editing etc that are being lapped up by those who face the risk of losing jobs/shutting down businesses if they do not upgrade their skills.
In this age, those who control algorithms control our reality. Hopefully, with greater understanding of A.I, the future of humanity will not be authored by billion dollar tech companies only, but will be co created by artists, entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, lawyers and dreamers.
While A.I certainly has its computational advantages, most humans (besides those who hoard toilet paper) thanks to years of evolution and adapting to new challenges have the intelligence and perspective to strategise critically for our individual survival, while maintaining our sense of compassion for the collective. This commendable ability to look beyond the virus of fear and uncertainty is what prevents our otherwise fragile human program from crashing.
At a time like this, it’s interesting to note how though we consider A.I to only be a set of programmable algorithms, likewise for A.I, humans too are only a program that’s compromised and needs to be fixed. If corona virus has taught us one thing big time, it’s ego check.
Once this raging, viral storm is over and we step out of our quarantines into a time of transition where many rules will be re — written, our survival and future of our species will depend on keeping an open mind to journey fearlessly into a space of bold, new possibilities.
“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.” — Haruki Murakami.