Category: Internet & Tech

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans

Artificial Intelligence

Digital life is augmenting human capacities and disrupting eons-old human activities. Code-driven systems have spread to more than half of the world’s inhabitants in ambient information and connectivity, offering previously unimagined opportunities and unprecedented threats. As emerging algorithm-driven artificial intelligence (AI) continues to spread, will people be better off than they are today?

Some 979 technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists answered this question in a canvassing of experts conducted in the summer of 2018.

The experts predicted networked artificial intelligence will amplify human effectiveness but also threaten human autonomy, agency and capabilities. They spoke of the wide-ranging possibilities; that computers might match or even exceed human intelligence and capabilities on tasks such as complex decision-making, reasoning and learning, sophisticated analytics and pattern recognition, visual acuity, speech recognition and language translation. They said “smart” systems in communities, in vehicles, in buildings and utilities, on farms and in business processes will save time, money and lives and offer opportunities for individuals to enjoy a more-customized future.

Many focused their optimistic remarks on health care and the many possible applications of AI in diagnosing and treating patients or helping senior citizens live fuller and healthier lives. They were also enthusiastic about AI’s role in contributing to broad public-health programs built around massive amounts of data that may be captured in the coming years about everything from personal genomes to nutrition. Additionally, a number of these experts predicted that AI would abet long-anticipated changes in formal and informal education systems.

Yet, most experts, regardless of whether they are optimistic or not, expressed concerns about the long-term impact of these new tools on the essential elements of being human. All respondents in this non-scientific canvassing were asked to elaborate on why they felt AI would leave people better off or not. Many shared deep worries, and many also suggested pathways toward solutions. The main themes they sounded about threats and remedies are outlined in the accompanying table.

Teens’ Social Media Habits and Experiences

Social Media Habits and Experiences

mid growing concern over social media’s impact and influence on today’s youth, a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens finds that many young people acknowledge the unique challenges – and benefits – of growing up in the digital age.

Today, social media use is nearly universal among teens.1 While notable shares say they at times feel overwhelmed by the drama on social media and pressure to construct only positive images of themselves, they simultaneously credit these online platforms with several positive outcomes – including strengthening friendships, exposing them to different viewpoints and helping people their age support causes they care about.

Roughly eight-in-ten teens ages 13 to 17 (81%) say social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while around two-thirds say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who will support them through tough times. And by relatively substantial margins, teens tend to associate their social media use with positive rather than negative emotions, such as feeling included rather than excluded (71% vs. 25%) or feeling confident rather than insecure (69% vs. 26%).

Young people also believe social media helps teens become more civically minded and exposes them to greater diversity – either through the people they interact with or the viewpoints they come across. Roughly two-thirds of teens say these sites help people their age interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds, find different points of view or show their support for causes or issues. And they see digital environments as important spaces for youth to connect with their friends and interact with others who share similar interests. For example, 60% of teens say they spend time with their friends online on a daily or nearly daily basis, and 77% say they ever spend time in online groups and forums.

The survey also illustrates the ways in which teens navigate social norms around what – and how often – they post to these sites. It is much more common for young people to post about their accomplishments or family life than to discuss their personal problems or political beliefs on social media. And while Millennials – some of whom are just older than teens – have been deemed the “selfie generation,” roughly half of today’s teens say they rarely (25%) or never (26%) post selfies on social media.

Social Media Habits and Experiences

For some teens, sharing their life online can come with added social burdens: Around four-in-ten say they feel pressure to only post content on social media that makes them look good to others (43%) or share things that will get a lot of likes or comments (37%).

At the same time, the online environment for today’s teens can be hostile and drama-filled – even if these incidents may fall short of more severe forms of cyberbullying. Some 45% of teens say they feel overwhelmed by all the drama on social media, with 13% saying they feel this way “a lot.” And a similar share of teens (44%) say they often or sometimes unfriend or unfollow others on social media. When asked why they’ve digitally disconnected from others, 78% of this group report doing so because people created too much drama, while 52% cite the bullying of them or others.

These are some of the key findings from the Center’s survey of 743 teens, ages 13 to 17, conducted March 7-April 10, 2018. Throughout the report, “teens” refers to those ages 13 to 17.

Stories From Experts About the Impact of Digital Life

Impact of Digital Life

Technology experts and scholars have never been at a loss for concerns about the current and future impact of the internet.

Over the years of canvassings by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, many experts have been anxious about the way people’s online activities can undermine truth, foment distrust, jeopardize individuals’ well-being when it comes to physical and emotional health, enable trolls to weaken democracy and community, compromise human agency as algorithms become embedded in more activities, kill privacy, make institutions less secure, open up larger social divisions as digital divides widen, and wipe out untold numbers of decent-paying jobs.

An early-2018 expert canvassing of technology experts, scholars and health specialists on the future of digital life and well-being contained references to some of those concerns. The experts who participated in that research project were also asked to share anecdotes about their own personal experiences with digital life. This report shares those observations.

Specifically, the participants in the nonscientific canvassing were asked:

Please share a brief personal anecdote about how digital life has changed your daily life, your family’s life or your friends’ lives in regard to well-being – some brief observation about life for self, family or friends. Tell us how this observation or anecdote captures how hyperconnected life changes people’s well-being compared to the way life was before digital connectivity existed.

Many of these experts wrote about a number of powerful ways digital life makes things better. Some themes:

THE POSITIVES OF DIGITAL LIFE

Glorious connectedness

Many argued that the internet has provided one of the greatest boons to individuals: the ability to reach out and connect directly with friends, family, colleagues, knowledge, education, entertainment and more anywhere globally at any time in a nearly free and frictionless manner.

Invent, reinvent, innovate

Digital tools enable people to invent or reinvent their lives and careers. They can also innovate through wide networking with people and information that allows them to develop businesses, find the perfect job, and meet soulmates, colleagues, new friends and fellow interest-sharers.

THE NEGATIVES OF DIGITAL LIFE

Impact of Digital Life

Connectedness overload

Low-friction instant access to nearly everything, anytime, anywhere is causing stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and loss of patience. Some experts noted that they witness people missing out on or diminishing important face-to-face social interactions and experiences. Some also noted that work demands and entertainment lures tug away at users 24/7/365 and that there is a loss of attention to “real life.”

Trust tensions

The business model of internet platforms is mostly built on an attention economy that rewards addictive products that heighten users’ emotions and perpetuate polarization. In addition, there are concerns among experts about issues of security, surveillance and privacy.

The remainder of this report draws from elaboration of these ideas by respondents who shared anecdotes and observations. It is broken into three chapters: 1) anecdotes and comments about the positives of digital life; 2) anecdotes and comments about potentially harmful aspects of that life; and 3) responses in which people’s statements or anecdotes were fairly evenly split with both pros and cons of digital life. Some responses are lightly edited for style.