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Destroying Free Will

Mark Nitzberg, Olaf Groth and Mark Esposito, AI isn’t just taking away our privacy—it’s destroying our free will, too, Quartz, December 14, 2017

Reduced choice

By replacing human-curated judgement with data-backed judgement, AI ultimately narrows our field of vision and reduces our social and economic choices—in retail, dating, entertainment, education, health care, and job opportunities. Taken individually, the nudges of mercantile and political interests may be of little consequence. But en masse, our lives become more and more subtly influenced and molded by the companies we let make decisions for us.

Through the WI Lens

Earlier this week, the scathing attack of a former Facebook senior executive against the behemoth went viral. He expressed “tremendous guilt” over his work at Facebook, confessing that social media is in the business of exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology. Most notably, he said: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.”

This week’s article should be read in the context of the monumental backlash currently brewing against tech in general and social media in particular. It makes a fundamental point: we look at AI (Artificial Intelligence) in terms of privacy issues, but the more fundamental problem is that it narrows our choices. This, we think, will have major medium and long-term implications on the wellbeing industry – particularly hospitality and retail. The industry is currently in love with big data and the way in which machine learning can leverage it for client retention and acquisition. But what will happen when the customers increasingly realize that the choices they make are not their own but those generated by an algorithm without their conscious involvement? Many will try to seek alternatives to regain part of their free will. For hotels and retail businesses, any offering that is not obviously algorithm generated that has a capacity to surprise in terms of place or experience will have an edge. Human-curated ideas and judgment will play an increasingly significant role as compared to data-backed decisions.

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