The Jurassic Park problem

February 2018

DinosaurIn BCS’s member-sourced ‘ideas for good’ campaign, Dave Brooks channels Jeff Goldblum’s character from Jurassic Park. He says, with the Institute’s stated goal of making IT good for society in mind,‘we need to ask why. We, as a society, are so interested in what we “can” do with tech that we forget to think about what we “should” do. This is a philosophical and ethical question, but also speaks to strategic alignment and use of resources.’ Brian Runciman MBCS reports on members’ ‘ideas for good.’

BCS has grouped the ‘ideas for good’ into three main strands: Utopian visions, where we are looking for folks to push the boat out and dream; Practical suggestions, looking at what annoys you right now, and asking you to suggest what could we do about it; and Re-imagining - a starting-from-scratch type approach, asking what we take for granted that we could rip up and start again.

Practical suggestions: Get your AI here

John Peto suggests a new AI, optimised to explain other AI neural network decisions.

‘As (weak) AI,’ he says, ‘becomes ubiquitous, it’s going to make lots of mistakes and we’re going to need to understand why it makes mistakes so that we can further optimise. Personal AI is needed to combat corporate AI so that we’re not constantly taken for a ride.’

He uses some examples:

  • Anti-fraud AI. It’s obvious that I don’t want to make an out-of-character large payment to a newly opened bank account in a far-off place without some additional checks, like talking to a person. Also, I could do with some AI to help with phishing and click bait and other annoyances that are easily spotted.
  • AI to manage vehicles. Equipped vehicles share routes evenly around traffic jams, so that winners and losers are rotated evenly. Today I might get sent down a lengthy detour, but tomorrow I’ll get paid back with a quick route that others have been diverted away from.
  • AI to stop trucks hitting bridges and getting stuck down unsuitable roads: all the common-sense stuff that we still struggle with.
  • AI to tell me if I could take the train cheaper, and maybe some constantly varying train tickets prices, to ensure that trains are used optimally, based on demand.
  • Quantum computing regulation: so that the first owners don’t get a ridiculously unfair advantage in trading markets by uncovering trends and techniques which will most likely be followed by a crash. Just regulation to use new technology responsibly, not just for pointless money grabbing.

‘There’s a short wish list,’ he writes, ‘but I’d swap it all for one final wish: use AI and psychology and anything else at our disposal to make rampant and unsustainable consumerism as uncool as it undoubtedly is. We need to shame people into leading greener lives, myself included.

Sheep mentality means that we should be able to reverse a lot of the current trends with the same marketing psychology that we’ve used to create the problems. We just need to speed things up in this space.’

Re-imagining: education

Paul Chau sends us some ideas on assessment in school. ‘The standardised learning path has been working for a long time’, he says, ‘however, with the evolution of data science and usage of elearning, it may be possible to renew the whole education system to make children adaptive with the skills they need in the current information age.

‘This is how it works. First, if we do most or all teaching with an elearning system, the elearning system can collect the student behaviour throughout the teaching process, and the materials can then be adjusted by analysing the student behaviour on each particular topic and use the process itself to be an assessment instead of a single end-of-term examination.

‘Second, as the assessment method is renewed, teachers are able to provide teaching materials, not according to syllabus, but generate more chances for student-initiate learning. By analysing student participation status throughout the years, the system can then match the student with some career paths fitting the student ability and interest and thus minimise the time a student spends on unnecessary subjects/skills. That could help a student to find their own interests and useful suggestions on career planning, and also help the country to keep track of the quantity and quality of talents in each sector.

Have a view - get involved

Reimagining: Mark yourself safe
 
Practical suggestions: Uber for nurses
As debate rages on the NHS, its funding and efficiency, Matthew Flynn suggests ‘an “Uber” type app for agency nurses. The NHS spent £3.6 billion in 2015 on temporary agency staff. A huge amount of this money didn’t go to the staff concerned but to agencies.

If hospitals and NHS trusts could access the pool of temporary nurses via an app (designed and perhaps owned by some social enterprise, BCS, or even a collective of NHS trusts) then it would reduce the massive amounts of money draining from the NHS.

'Nurses could register, linking through the app via an API to their record on the professional register of nurses. They could perhaps bid for the work like Uber drivers do - or just make themselves available and be paid a flat rate - no less than they get from agencies now but without the huge agency fees.

‘The app might take a fixed rate of fee, say £1 per hour or so. Huge money savings would be possible and it might well be more efficient than the agency system.’
 
Practical suggestions: media errors
Ann Jones addresses an issue that irritates many - media coverage of computing issues. She writes: ‘The Royal Statistical Society has made a point of having a team of people to respond and educate people to all the bad statistics that hits the news media. In fact, they ran some training in Holyrood for Members of the Scottish Parliament and their staff in basic statistics. This promotes the name of RSS.’ She suggests a similar misinformation-busting approach would benefit BCS.
 
Utopian visions: politics
Toby Leheup MBCS sent in some interesting thoughts on politics.

IT can truly revolutionise politics, he writes. The current system is so deeply flawed it’s amazing that it works at all. Most democratic countries ask their citizens to vote for a political party that best represents their views.

The politically intrigued will read manifestos and vote accordingly but many will not. Many will simply vote for the party that ‘feels right’ or the one which has the most charismatic leader. Perhaps even the one that their parents vote for.

The problem gets no better when you change perspectives from the political parties themselves. They look to guidance, not from citizens, but from members’ unions and think-tanks who have their own agenda. There is a gap between those who have a right to strong national leadership and those who deliver that leadership.

Becoming ambidextrous

There is a better way. No longer should we think about parties and whether you are a ‘leftist’ or a ‘rightist’. No longer should we think about whether people ‘make a better prime minister’ based on how they eat chips or bacon sandwiches.

Instead, let’s bring that decision-making back to the people. The wisdom of the masses is perhaps the best and most democratic wisdom we have and yet it is not leveraged beyond the odd referendum taken once every decade. How can getting political guidance from those you represent once every decade be an acceptable method of governance?

Imagine a world where you can vote from your mobile on issues that matter to you. Imagine that those votes are analysed in real time with graphics displayed in the House of Commons. Imagine being an MP and having an understanding of the views of your constituents at a glance of your phone.

Imagine a world where we can predict and publish fiscal consequences of policy changes based on real-time opinion polls. Imagine a world which is no longer split into 52 per cent and 48 per cent but into compromise and mutual satisfaction, based on granular decision making. Imagine a world where the governing representatives are required to listen to their constituents by rule of hard published and verified facts.

Imagine a world where politics is no longer an old boy’s club, where the verbal battles play in the House of Commons, but instead is a place where data analysis, ethics, morality and decision-making are combined in harmony. Imagine a world where fake news and propaganda are met with a single and trusted authoritative source. Just imagine.

IT offers a beautiful solution. This solution will harness digitally authenticated voting, big data analytics and artificial intelligence to deliver the very best direct democracy in the world. This could be the very Greatest Democracy of Britain.

 

Image: iStock.com/Lefteris