I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans. I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion, without concern for consequences. That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we’ve been and the danger that lies ahead.
This is how Apple CEO Tim Cook addressed MIT graduates a couple of weeks ago, in his commencement speech. The full transcript of the speech is available here. A profound and heartfelt reflexion upon the impact of technology in our lives.
What is the border between being social online and being alienated from the real world? What is the one between being well informed and misinformed due to fake news? What is the ultimate purpose of all this?
Cook shared his thoughts on this, pointing a clear basic fact: technology is just a mean, never a goal.
Steve Jobs already stated that technology alone is not enough. Keeping people at the centre will have a much greater impact. Repercussions, of course, will be inevitable. For Apple, it means an iPhone that allows the blind person to run a marathon. It means an Apple Watch that catches a heart condition before it becomes a heart attack. It means an iPad that helps a child with autism connect with his or her world.
In short, it means technology infused with our values, making progress possible for everyone.
How do we value technology? This is not a matter of deciding whether it is useful or not, or how good an app that helps us outsmarting traffic could be. Progress, in this case, is self-evident.
The question behind all this is how prone are we to be overwhelmed by it. The major risk is for younger generations, those who were born in a time when technology was so widespread that they can only recall with their faintest imagination a world with no smartphones, no digital tv, no laptops, so light they can be carried easily in a small bag. This memory is not so vague for us though, we older generation.
Our main duty is to hone them with a sense of balance. Equip them with the best technology possible, still keeping in mind Cook’s message that technology alone does not think, nor dreams, nor hopes. Our human selves can do it, so let’s do that at our best.