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The Future is Bright, the Future is Human

For all the concerns prompted by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the moral maze that seems to surround it, futurist Gerd Leonhard says he is optimistic about the future, provided mankind concentrates on its great advantage over machines; humanity itself, and emotional intelligence. 

Winners and jury members for the first “For a Sustainable Future Prize”.

Leonard, one of the top 100 influencers in Europe, was the keynote speaker (via a Skype connection) at a jubilee event marking ten years of the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Hungary (BCSDH). The immediate future would bring “huge ethical challenges, but also huge opportunities”, he said.

The exponential growth of machines and machine learning is undoubtedly dramatic. It is also impossible for humankind to match, Leonard told delegates at the ÖbölHáz at Kopaszi gát on October 12. “We are inefficient ‘machines’. Technology is exponential, humans are not, and we should keep it that way.”

In a presentation littered with startling statistics, Leonard said that if the 1971 VW Beetle had developed at the same pace as computer processing, it would travel at 300,000 mph today. “We are now at the take off point of exponential change,” he said.

There are dangers, and perhaps the biggest is what we will allow ourselves to do with machines, hence the need for what he calls a “Digital Ethics Council”. Warning that “humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the last 300”, he posed a key question: “Who is going to decide what is right and what is wrong, because machines will make anything possible. […] Technology has no ethics; it never has, and it probably never will. It is ethically neutral.”  

Narrow Intelligence

While he believes medical advances might well extend our lives to around 150 years, it is our most intangible asset that is our greatest, he said. “Machines do not think like we do. They think like machines, and they are very good at it, but it is a narrow intelligence,” Leonard explained. “Anything that can be digitalized will be. That is not going to make us useless humans. Anything that cannot be digitalized becomes extremely powerful. […] Algorithms are not good at dealing with emotions, and 90% of what we do is emotions.” 

That key difference between man and machine was a point he kept coming back to. Noting that “data is the new oil, and AI is the new electricity”, he said technology and cognitive computing will make for an extremely powerful combination. They could, for example, simply make the top 1% even richer or, if the will is there, be used to help bridge poverty and socio-economic divides. “It is important to use these tools carefully. Clearly, if we do not, then things will not end well for us.”

Insisting that: “All technologies should be designed with human values”, he said humanity should always be valued above technology. “We should invest at least as much energy in people, in ourselves, as we do in technology. It will make us successful both in terms of personal and economic factors.” Of course, mankind must also invest heavily in technology, he said, but warned, “We should embrace technology, but not become it.”

Suggesting that “70% of our jobs in ten years’ time have not been invented yet”, he said the right kind of education would be vital, with emotional intelligence, intuition, imagination and playfulness at its heart. “We have to focus on creativity, but not ban technology.” There is a long way to go, he said.

“Most governments are ten years behind the curve on these issues, and this is all coming up in the next five years. There are a lot of positive things here, but we need to create balance. […] Tech will make the world a better place if we govern it properly. […] The future is better than we think; we have to give people more credit. We need to focus on that, and impacting politicians to make these decisions.” 

For a Sustainable Future Prize

Marking the tenth anniversary of the founding of the BCSDH, a new annual award was presented for the first time. The “For a Sustainable Future Prize”, was presented in three categories. established on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of BCSDH, was held. The winners of the Change Leader prize were: László Károlyi (Legrand) and Károly Kovács (environmental consulting firm BDL Kft.) Winners of the Leading Woman prize were: Kamilla Csomai (MAVIR), Andrea Istenesné Solti (Shell Hungary), Márta Pálfalvi (Heineken Hungary), and Mónika Vörös (Unilever Hungary). The best Business Solution prize was awarded to TESCO Globál Áruházak Zrt. for its “Not a single bite of food can be wasted” program, which is designed to reduce the amount of food waste.