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Phil Libin says AI developers shouldn’t focus on negative outcomes



Evernote founder Phil Libin sitting on a couch on August 1, 2018 in the San Francisco headquarters of All Turtles, a startup incubator where he serves as CEO.
Turtles CEO Phil Libin said his days as a motorcyclist offer some
useful advice for the development of artificial

Wolverton/Business Insider

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is developing rapidly and
    starting to be adopted widely.
  • The technology has the potential to transform society.
  • But it could lead to lots of negative outcomes, such as
    massive unemployment, and could be put to plenty of deleterious
    uses, such as large-scale violations of privacy.
  • The best way to avoid those harms would be to focus on
    creating products that use the technology in socially beneficial
    ways, said Phil Libin, best known as the founder of Evernote,
    whose new startup, All Turtles, incubates AI projects.

When it comes to how artificial-intelligence technology might
affect society, there are a host of things to worry about,
including the massive loss of jobs and killer robots.

But the best way to avoid such negative outcomes may be to ignore
them, more or less.

That’s the advice of Phil Libin, CEO of All Turtles, a startup
that focuses on turning AI-related ideas into commercial products
and companies. In a
recent conversation with Business Insider
, Libin likened the
situation to some advice he received when he was learning to ride
a motorcycle.

His instructor taught him that if an accident happened in front
of him while he was riding on the highway, such as a semi truck
flipping over, the worst thing to do would be to stare at the
truck. Instead, his instructor said, he should focus on the point
he needed to get to to avoid colliding with the truck.

“If you look at what you’re trying to avoid, then you’re going to
run into it,” said Libin, who previously founded Evernote.
“You’ve got to look at where you want to be.”

The tech industry would do well to follow that admonition when it
comes to developing artificial intelligence, he said.

Years in the making, AI is starting to progress rapidly. It’s
being used by consumers in the form of intelligent assistants
such as Amazon’s Alexa to answer trivia questions and make
purchases. And it’s being used by corporations to help them make
business decisions.

AI has the potential for good — and evil

Many observers think the technology could transform society in
profound ways, and
not necessarily for the better

Indeed, there are some potentially dangerous and dystopian
outcomes and uses of AI. It’s already starting to be used in
China as part of a mass surveillance scheme. It could be used to
track people basically from their birth on, collecting intimate
insights into their every thought and desire. It could be used to
perpetuate or worsen discrimination against particular people or
groups. And it could be used to power terrifying new weapons.

Technologists and policy makers ought not ignore such potential
uses of the technology, Libin said. They should be aware of them.
But the best way to avoid them would be to concentrate on
developing ways to use AI in socially beneficial ways, he said.

“There really is a flipped-over truck, and there’s all sorts of
bad things that can happen. And we definitely need to work
towards not hitting it,” Libin said. “But the best way to do that
is to [say] … this is where we want to go. Here’s a vision of
certain products that are like obviously good, and virtuous, and
the world needs them, and they solve real problems, and let’s
make those products.”

Indeed, that’s what he sees as a big part of All Turtles’
mission. One of the first projects the company helped incubate is
a chatbot called Spot that
is designed to make it easier for employees to document and
report incidents of sexual harassment and discrimination. Another
is Disco, a
plug-in for collaboration software Slack that helps employers
give timely positive feedback to workers.

The projects All Turtles works on “is all stuff that we should be
able to, right from beginning, right by design, feel good about,”
he said.

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