Artificial intelligence, chatbots and personal assistants: towards assisted living?

Living With Smart Machines

Soon, algorithms, personal assistants and chatbots will think everything for us? The question arises more and more as the I.A. takes up space in our lives.

When you go on Facebook, a message suggests you to “add” a friend friend, because you “like” the same singers. When you put your headphones on your ears, Spotify offers you its “discoveries of the week” – depending on what you have already listened to.

When you want to watch a movie, Netflix gives you videos to watch that fit your taste – an algorithm based on what you’ve already seen. When you come home and you do not (too) have the courage to seek love on the Internet, the algorithms of Meetic and Tinder calculate “probabilities of compatibility”, and offer to meet people sharing your passions.

When you have a question, you can talk to your personal mobile assistant – Cortana, Siri, Google Now – or your “smart” box, Alexa from Amazon Echo or Google Home, who will find you the answer, by going on the Web (in fact, on Google or Wikipedia). And when you’re hungry, you can ask Google Assistant (via Allo), or “M”, the Facebook chatbot, to find a nearby pizzeria.

Practical tools … that make you lazy

An army of chatbots, assistants and algorithms are part of our daily lives, without our being aware of it. Why trust them? “They have imposed themselves by the force of habit, with the use of Google and Facebook in particular … And then, we must admit that they are very practical,” says Philippe Vion-Dury, journalist and author of an essay entitled “The New Voluntary Servitude”.

The algorithms of Netflix, Facebook or Amazon are very effective: they sort thousands of data, make us personalized suggestions, avoiding us to search. As for personal assistants and chatbots, “they help us to perform tasks … with a gadget and wonderful side that pleases”, remarks Philippe Vion-Dury. By dint of using these I.A. which “facilitate” life, laziness is making its way. In the image of Google users: 80 to 90% of them stop in their research on the first page of results – because that is enough for them, they trust … without the courage to go further.

This assisted life is not without risks. Beyond the risks of seeing these tools manipulated or “bugger”, our passivity is a godsend for the giants of the Web: 30% of Amazon sales come from its recommendation algorithm, when 70% of Netflix videos are seen after suggestions. When you use Netflix or Amazon, “you go to a party, where everyone is invited, but where the service has made his friends the first people you meet,” said Will Oremus, columnist on Slate.

How to remain passive? The I.A, chatbots and algorithms are not “open source”, impossible to know how they work: to us to follow them, or more at all! Unless the middle ground is to use them with a keen eye, without resting on them, but staying “active”. Keeping control also means “reverse engineering” – “opening the machines”. But that’s another story, which we’ll talk about later!

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