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article imageMicrosoft CEO Nadella calls for AI to be built 'with empathy'

By James Walker     Oct 6, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said AI must be built with empathy if companies are to avoid "unintended consequences" of using the technology. He expressed concerns that the first wave of AI has to be a "force for good" if the concept is to succeed.
Nadella made the comments during an event in London today for the release of his new book, Hit Refresh. He used the time to explain more of his own views on AI, stating the technology could transform the world but also warning innovators not to forget about ethics.
Real intelligence "will be scarce"
Addressing the issue of mass AI adoption creating a "sterile" environment, Nadella said machines must be imbued with human qualities if they're to be accepted. Studies have previously found people are alarmed by the prospect of having to work alongside machines that approach problems without empathy for the task.
Nadella said a lack of AI empathy could have other impacts, such as limited innovative capabilities. An AI has to appreciate human viewpoints if it's to effectively plan or create. Deep replication of human creativity is still one of the biggest challenges facing AI creators.
"I believe in a world that will have an abundance of artificial intelligence, but what will be scarce is real intelligence and human qualities, like empathy," said Nadella. "I think great innovation comes from the empathy you have for the problems you want to solve for people."
Taking accountability
AI is still in a largely exploratory state. Companies are experimenting with machine learning as they work out how it could impact their industry.
Microsoft s Satya Nadella.
Microsoft's Satya Nadella.
Microsoft October 2015 Live Event
This has led to a general focus on advancing the technology, causing concerns such as ethics and accountability to sometimes be overlooked. Nadella reiterated his belief that developers need to continually consider the "unintended consequences" of negative AI if the technology is to have a net positive effect over time.
"We need to take accountability for the AI we create. I think a lot about this," Nadella said. "With any new technology we, as a society, have to be clear-eyed on both sides of it – the opportunities for this technology to have a profound impact on our daily lives and do good, and at the same time be very mindful of unintended consequences."
Responsible outlook
Nadella has previously struck a similarly cautious approach to AI. He has invested heavily in developing the technology since becoming Microsoft CEO in 2014, regularly providing examples of it how could transform lives. He's also expressed views that AI should not be used to displace humans, pitching machine learning as an assistance mechanism rather than a direct replacement.
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The overall message is that AI should be handled with care. There's no reason not to encourage its adoption, as long as its limitations are recognised and respected.
Artificial intelligence is now being used across Microsoft's own products. The company clearly has broader ambitions for the technology, intending to use it as the spearhead for its digital transformation plans. Nadella's comments suggest the digital era may be just a little less digital than we thought. Human qualities such as empathy could be the essential component for the machines of the future.
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