Artificial Empathy?

Seems like a refrain for important, contemporary finance and payments conferences to bring an IT history superstar to the stage – someone who literally changed our lives with their creations.

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and creator of its first computers (“in a garage” says the well-known story, or legend), is all over the place. I have not personally seen a presentation of his, but I’m sure he enjoys what he’s doing. To have shaped the origins of what is today the richest company in the world must indeed deliver a warm feeling, even if you didn’t end up in the realm of modern day, Global, Over The Top tycoons such as Bezos, Zuckerberg and Page/Brin.

Payments Canada 2019 featured Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Certainly a genius, but not particularly gifted in public speaking in my opinion – I was not impressed.

Federico Faggin, the creator of the first microprocessor (the Intel 4004) and a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur, opened Payvolution 2019 – Il Salone dei Pagamenti, in Milan. A native of Vicenza, Italy, Mr Faggin moved to the US when he was 27. A physicist, he spent all his interesting life working in IT. He told the story of being laughed at when he showed his Synaptics touch screen to Nokia, RIM (Blackberry) and Motorola in the mid 2000’s – and look at where those brands are today, while Apple wanted exclusivity and, after he answered no, created its own.

After multiple decades working on computers and with computers, he says he can confirm they can only amplify the mechanical calculation capability of the brain, and not go beyond. Intuition, Imagination, Inventiveness – I truly love these three I’s – are authentically human. Mente, cuore, pancia (mind, heart, belly): computers cannot re-create the range of feelings and emotions they generate via their interaction. As a consequence, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, no doubts, but don’t be afraid: it will not take over humanity. It must be mastered to help make our lives increasingly easier, always with human supervision. Silicon Valley thinks AI will go as far as replacing humans… but it cannot match mankind. Robots cannot have empathy, which means the human factor still counts - and will forever.

Mr Faggin in less than 15 minutes left the audience fascinated. But wait: who says empathy is not a mathematic function? We may guess or sense that it isn’t, that it is beyond calculations and thus a genuinely human trait, but is there a way to scientifically prove it?

You probably need to be both a psychiatrist and an engineer to gauge whether this may be possible or not, and I am (rather happily, I admit!) neither. smiley

Francesco Grasso
Corporate Marketing Manager, Panini

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