Technology has greatly contributed to improving and streamlining everyday life. However, as technology advances, there is an increased reliance on digital tools powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Unfortunately, these technologies are also challenging the fundamental notion of human agency. As a result, there are rising concerns about humans losing the ability to make independent decisions.
What is Human Agency?
Human agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act intentionally and make choices that shape their lives. Although the human agency is influenced by various factors, including social, cultural and environmental contexts, individuals should maintain the ability to exert some degree of control and influence over their lives. As far as technology is concerned, individuals must retain control and decision-making power. This calls for technologies that support humans in making informed decisions rather than controlling the decisions made.
Concerns Over the Effects of Digital Systems on Human Agency
The Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a nonscientific canvassing to gather expert views about the future of the human agency.
The experts were specifically asked, “By 2035, will smart machines, bots and systems powered by artificial intelligence be designed to allow humans to easily be in control of most tech-aided decision-making that is relevant to their lives?“
Of the 540 experts from different fields, 56 percent disagreed with the statement, while 44 percent agreed. Some of the main themes raised by the experts who disagreed with the statement include:
- The agendas of commercial interests and governments will determine the future.
- The convenience that comes with automation makes users less vigilant over technology.
- AI technology’s complexity and rapid evolution can be overwhelming, making it difficult for users to assert their agency.
Common themes raised by participants that agreed with the statement include:
- Humans also will evolve with technology, and there is the expectation that AI and tech companies will be regulated.
- Expectations that businesses will protect the human agency to retain public trust and to keep ahead of competition.
- Technology will allow varying degrees of human agency.
Key Considerations for Upholding Human Agency
Seeing that technology will keep advancing and more automated systems will be witnessed, it’s crucial to implement ways to help uphold human agency. Some considerations include the following:
- Implement mechanisms that contest AI systems. An AI system is as good as the information fed to it. Therefore, it can be faulty or deliberately flawed, and there should be ways to request redress. This can be through AI policies that allow users to contest or rectify a decision made by AI systems.
- Empower users through systems that include meaningful choices and controls, enabling users to decide how to interact with them. For example, a system should allow users to adjust preferences, customize settings and choose the features they want. This promotes a sense of ownership and autonomy over digital experiences.
- Promote digital literacy and education to teach about technology capabilities and limitations. Technology users must develop critical thinking skills to exercise human agency and make informed decisions.
- Integrate ethical principles into technology design and deployment. This can be done by creating guiding ethical frameworks that consider the likely societal impacts and consequences of digital systems.
- Guarantee transparency and explainability in technologies and algorithms, providing users with accessible explanations of how decisions are made and what data is utilized. This transparency fosters trust in the technology and empowers individuals to make informed choices.
- Establish accountability for the design, development and implementation of digital systems. Holding individuals and organizations accountable for the impact of their technology helps maintain human agency and promotes ethical behavior.
- Implement robust measures to safeguard individuals’ privacy and protect their data. This includes incorporating strong data protection mechanisms, giving users control over their personal information and establishing clear consent mechanisms for data collection and usage, accompanied by transparent policies. Respecting privacy rights is paramount for preserving human agency in the digital realm.
The essence of being human lies in exercising control over the nature and quality of an individual’s life. However, technological advances such as artificial intelligence are raising concerns about this human ability. Humans are responsible for actively embracing and comprehending the possibilities and implications of living in a world where digital systems take over various tasks and processes. Instead of surrendering their agency, humans should view partnering with these digital systems as a means to supplement and strengthen their intelligence rather than surrendering it.