By clicking “Accept All Cookies,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation and analyze site usage.

Skip to main content

The Human Strategy: A Conversation With Alex “Sandy” Pentland

November 20, 2017


In this new, Edge network video and podcast, MIT Professor, Alex “Sandy” Pentland, dives deep into the state of our human and social interactions today to help figure out where we want AI to lead us in the future.

Here are a few of his thought-provoking questions and comments from the conversation transcript:

  • We all live in a human social network. We’re reinforced for things that seem to help everybody and discouraged from things that are not appreciated. Culture is something that comes from a sort of human AI, the function of reinforcing the good and penalizing the bad, but applied to humans and human problems. Once you realize that you can take this general framework of AI and create a human AI, the question becomes, what’s the right way to do that? Is it a safe idea? Is it completely crazy?
  • I don’t want to think small—people talk about robots and stuff—I want this to be global. Think Skynet. But how would you make Skynet something that’s really about the human fabric? The first thing you have to ask is what’s the magic of the current AI? Where is it wrong and where is it right?

  • One of the ways that good decisionmaking can run amok is through advertising, or fake news. There are many ways to get people to think that something is popular when it’s not, and that screws the whole thing up. The way in which you can make groups of people smarter, the way you can make human AI, will work only if you can get feedback to them that’s truthful. It has to be grounded on whether each particular action worked or not… That’s the key to the AI mechanisms, too. ​

  • Today, we have incredible polarization and segregation by income almost everywhere in the world, and that threatens to tear governments and civil society apart. ..Increasingly, the media are failing us, and the downfall of media is causing people to lose their bearings. They don’t know what to believe. It makes it easy for people to be manipulated. There is a real need to put a grounding under all of our cultures of things that we all agree on, and to be able to know which things are working and which things aren’t.
  • We’ve now converted to a digital society, and have lost touch with the notions of truth and justice. Justice used to be mostly informal and normative. We’ve now made it very formal. At the same time, we’ve put it out of the reach of most people. 
  • A common test I have for people that I run into is this: Do you know anybody who owns a pickup truck? It’s the number-one selling vehicle in America, and if you don’t know people like that, that tells me you are out of touch with more than half of America. Segregation is what we’re talking about here, physical segregation that drives conceptual segregation. Most of America thinks of justice, and access, and fairness as being very different than the typical, say, Manhattanite.


Watch, listen, and read more here.