Artificial sociality: can AI exist without the human factor?

Belinda Bantham -- Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:04

Artificial sociality: can AI exist without the human factor?

In the 21st century Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a buzz word and Hollywood has sparked our interest into machine learning and how it will affect us, as humans.

Prof Gert Jan Hofstede, new extraordinary professor at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Optentia research focus area, advocates the study of Artificial Sociality. This is a branch of AI that brings the human reaction and group behaviour to the table.

In his recent prestige lecture, Prof Hofstede explained that the concept of Artificial Sociality was briefly touched upon in the 1990s, but took a backseat when the World Wide Web came together with the advent of social media, big data and the likes.

Meanwhile it had developed into what he calls a “brainy” discipline, exploring how computers can outsmart humans. Prof Hofstede asserts that humans as a collective will however, still endeavour in acts that machine learning cannot understand.

“In order to create models that support policy, we will not only need Artificial Intelligence, but also Artificial Sociality”, says Prof Hofstede. “We need brains, but to understand what people do collectively, we need to understand their sociality.”

He has seen the importance of this understanding when looking at groups and the way that people tend to self-organise and reckons that sociality cannot be imposed from the top by a boss or a government. People are social beings and they respond to one another. Even though certain things must be organised from the top, such as infrastructure, a group will self-organise. Prof Hofstede says this happens in ways that may be understood and predicted, but due to a limited understanding, it cannot be predicted currently.

Prof Hofstede is a social scientist who does multidisciplinary work on information management, social simulation and the cultural dynamics of human behaviour. He graduated as a population biologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where he is currently a professor. He then went on to become a computer programmer. Returning to the academia, he did a PhD in production planning in 1992, during which time he became convinced that in complex systems, the human element is often understudied. He has since worked on simulation gaming, on trust and transparency in supply chains and during the last decade, on social simulation.