Can you tell what the following list items have in common?

  • Recognition of people in photos
  • Recommendation of films, routes, friends in social networks, etc.
  • Automatic reading and identification of vehicle license plates
  • Content translation

These are examples of practical applications of computational intelligence, also publicly called artificial intelligence, big data and witchcraft.

Let’s stick to witchcraft. There is a magical aura surrounding computational intelligence, so magical that it makes the eyes of science fiction writers shine. However, nothing contributes so much to this mystical curtain as the sensational news on this subject.

We recognize that the technological leaps obtained with computational intelligence are many, and we believe that much more is to come. We often impressed with what you can do using simple techniques proposed in the distant 1960s (such as k-means), combined with the computing power and the amount of data we accumulate today.

In this sense, this sensationalism brings something good: at first, the whole area enjoys much publicity, and this implies funding for research.

There is no free lunch

We need to look critically at our progress. Not with a critical fictional look, in which we fear the Skynet or a machine revolution, seeking the extermination of the weak humans; but a critical look at the real impacts these technologies have on our lives.

The very motive that makes our eyes shine also deviates from the serious implications and limits of what we have built up to then. Such technology already shapes our view of the world, our way of relating. The most obvious example is the impact on our privacy: by posting our photos and opinions on social networks, we have begun a worrying cycle. The companies involved identify all individuals in our photos and analyse the content (or ‘feeling’) of our opinions; manipulate our mood to play with what we see; they share our data with questionable integrity of governments without any plausible justification; among other operations “at the limit of ethics” (to be very nice).

We see here a crucial mission of scientific dissemination of this area of ​​research. By demystifying the artificial intelligence, we have the means to better understand how technology affects us, how it makes us (or “disconnect”) protagonists of our choices. It is nice to change your profile photo to support a US decision on same-sex rights. Nevertheless, this simple act of support is still beautiful when we suspect that it all started as another experiment by Facebook.

Sensationalism and witchcraft will not pass. 😛