Humans created artificial intelligence; but then?

Burak AbatayBirGün Newspaper14.05.2020

Author Asli Der, in her book Case Study Home Schooled Ekim, questions the effect of technology on future generations. Der asks: “What will be the basis for the decisions made by artificial intelligence, what will we code, what will we teach it, what will we want it to learn?” She emphasizes that humanity has to put the good, the bad, the right and the wrong on the table again.

What if human-made artificial intelligence becomes the greatest power of the whole world one day and appears as the main element of process? What if technology suddenly started to reign? What then will our moral teachings, cultures, ideals be? Aslı Der, author of children’s books, is looking for an answer through children in the light of all these questions. Der explores it in her book, Case Study Home Schooled Ekim, published under the Günışığı Kitapligi label. We met with her to talk about her book.

I would like to start with the state of children’s literature in Turkey. How do you think it’s going?

For some reason, we are a little hesitant while handling some topics. For example, while we deal with issues such as domestic violence and male-female relations more easily abroad, it’s as if we deal with these topics in children and youth literature in Turkey with more caution. In my agenda there are issues such as climate change, global warming that will really challenge us all as a planet, technological developments, and as a result conflict between parents and children. One of them is artificial intelligence. It’s in our life and developing. But what about the ethical side of this? It seems like it’s a little more efficient to question all this abroad and to produce work on it. We are also trying to implement this in Turkey, but it’s still early days. We will too. I am not so hopeless. I don’t want to sound so hopeless about anything. I’ve been writing for about 20 years. I am glad to see that the work produced has increased a lot since then. We’ve had more writers writing for children and youth literature, and there must be even more. Authentic work produced should increase, it is increasing, but as I’ve mentioned, we approach the issues a little more timidly.

We are Reluctant

Are we more conservative then?

I wouldn’t say conservative, but let me say reluctant. While talking with children, we determine topics to talk about or not. Or we plan to say “let’s talk like this, not like that”. In that respect, I think every subject can be discussed with children or young people. Maybe in a completely different language with the young people. But this is where the language is very important. I think that when we use the language correctly, when we explain ourselves in a simple, clear but correct way to the other person, every subject can be discussed with no exception.

You have said similar things about your book Messed Up. You were saying you don’t have “lines you don’t cross”.

I think it should be that way. Every issue that we don’t talk about but cover up actually grows as a problem and becomes inextricable. When we don’t sit down and talk about it, through mutual dialogues, every topic that we don’t express and keep in us, actually becomes a problem. I think this can become a problem for the child, the individual, and the family. That’s why I think anything can be expressed with no exceptions. But it should be at a level and language that the other person can understand. In this case, using the language is very important.

We Should Evaluate Our Moral Codes

If we consider Case Study Home Schooled Ekim, Artificial Intelligence is a relatively new thing in children’s literature.

While we’ve been taking advantage of the products of AI— which we’ve been using for a long time than we thought — it’s much more current now. It started to get into education a little more. And it became more talked about. I am also interested in the following point; Yes, we are developing AI, but as we make it superior, we will face a question: How do we code AI ethically as we approach to the point of it making its own decisions? What will its moral values be, what will be its reference points when making decisions? How do we form our moral values as humans? I think this question will make humans look at themselves and evaluate. That’s why we, as a society, have to reevaluate, write and discover our own moral values while coding AI. We have to rethink about the unquestioned, already established norms. This is not only limited to Turkey. I think this will be the next step worldwide. We will try to redefine our understanding of ethics through AI.

That’s why the Summer character in the book comes face to face with Ekim, right?

Yes, because I wanted the children to see that Summer could be getting out of control. At the end, will we actually be able to control the AI that we produce and even create,- after all, we think us, humans have created them- ? And what will be the basis for its decisions, what will we code, what will we teach it, what will we want it to learn? We have to discuss these and, of course, the concept of justice again. One has to debate what is good, bad, right and wrong again. That’s why it’s a very deep subject.

Will it be continued?

Not the Case Study, but I would like to build my next work on AI. Again, I would like to work on and discuss issues related to AI and especially what issues we will have with AI in the future, what problems we will experience, and what we should reevaluate in ourselves.

When we bring together fantasy literature with children, we come across this: Children are already fantastic creatures…

I think each of us is. As we move into the adult life though, we lose the most beautiful thing we have: Joy to live. The less surprised, the less we are away from accepting and questioning life as presented to us, the more we lose that joy that comes with a sense of astonishment.

I admit, life is hard, it takes a lot of work, it’s quite intense, but as long as we cannot hold that joy, we are also getting out of that fantasy state. In fact, monotony of the world makes the individual monotonous after a while. It’s somewhat a chaotic thing actually. But of course I totally agree with your definition, childhood has a fantastic aspect. We have to be able to preserve it somehow.