A Plea for AI That Serves Humanity Instead of Replacing It

Sixty-two years ago this summer, Dartmouth professor John McCarthy coined the term artificial intelligence. Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab, has come to think it’s unhelpful.

Talk of AI has become hard to avoid due to surging investment from companies hoping to profit from advances in machine learning. Ito believes the term has also become tainted by the assumption that humans and machines must be in opposition—think debates about jobs stolen by robots, or superintelligence threatening humanity.

“Instead of thinking about AI as separate or adversarial to humans, it’s more helpful and accurate to think about machines augmenting our collective intelligence and society,” Ito says. (Ito is a regular contributor to WIRED’s Ideas section.) Say goodbye to AI, and hello to EI, or XI, for extended intelligence. The phrase is supposed to make it easier to think of AI as a tool for the good of the many, not the enrichment or protection of the few.

Ito isn’t alone in pushing the notion of extended intelligence. The torch is carried by a new group called the Global Council on Extended Intelligence, announced Friday by the Media Lab and the IEEE standards organization. CXI, as the project is also known, aims to steer more of the talent and money being spent on AI towards projects aimed at improving the lot of everyone. Areas of interest include helping people control their identity even as technologies such as facial recognition become more widely used, and finding ways to measure how automation impacts the well-being of workers, not just company profits and GDP.

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