Are We All Becoming Cyborgs? Exploring Generative AI and the Future of Human-Machine Collaboration

Published by Daniel Eycken
October 31, 2023 @ 10:00 AM

On Tuesday, October 24, CIONET hosted a groundbreaking roundtable discussion entitled “Are We All Becoming Cyborgs?”. Set up in partnership with Dell Technologies, VMWare, and Intel, the event unfolded within the stunning setting of Martin’s Patershof, a former church transformed into a picturesque hotel. The dialogue centred on the emerging era of human-machine collaboration, pondering whether GenAI will eventually supplant human roles or simply enhance our capabilities and how this synergy will reshape our workplaces.

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Kris Maes, representing imec as the VP of ICT, described how imec, a world-leading R&D hub for chips and applications, integrates AI into its core and applied research. He emphasised that AI has become a new domain of fundamental research for imec, which strives to make AI greener, faster, and more inclusive. Imec's research spans all aspects of AI systems, from the materials in chips to systemic sustainability—not just in reducing carbon footprints but also in making AI more accessible, thereby democratising its benefits.

Kris then highlighted the shift toward decentralized data processing, moving from heavy reliance on public clouds to local processing at the 'edge.' This shift can revolutionise our interaction with technology by speeding up processes and enabling localised AI insights, making our technological experiences quicker and more personalised.

On the ethics of AI, Kris mentioned imec's proactive steps, such as establishing a dedicated ethics team and a governance framework. As Generative AI becomes an inescapable facet of the tech landscape, imec takes a proactive stance, aiming to guide this advancement for the betterment of both the organisation and society. Central to this strategy is empowering employees to use GenAI to augment their skills and optimise performance.

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In parallel, imec is developing a robust governance model to ensure ethical and secure GenAI utilisation. This includes a focus on protecting research data—crucial to imec's intellectual property. The aim is to retain control over data within the imec ecosystem, guarding against the risks of data transfer to external AI tools, particularly those operated by entities with geopolitical and competitive interests.

Ultimately, imec's approach to GenAI is to balance the technology's benefits with the safeguarding of intellectual assets, fostering an environment where technology amplifies human capability in adherence to ethical standards.

The roundtable highlighted the practical benefits of GenAI, such as enhancing copywriting, research, and coding tasks. This improved efficiency and supported junior developers, leading to better timelines and project outcomes. GenAI's ability to process and refine data from various sources like contracts and meeting minutes enhances productivity and the quality of outputs.

The consensus emphasised that GenAI is meant to augment and enrich professional tasks, not replace the human element. It is a tool that relieves us from repetitive tasks and allows a focus on complex and creative work, fostering a dynamic and innovative workplace.

A Counterbalanced Debate

Professor Nicky Dries, a notable expert in Organisational Behaviour, enriched the debate on the impact of AI on our lives and our work. Leading the Future of Work Lab at KU Leuven, her research employs media analysis, robotic art, virtual reality, and science fiction narratives to inspire public discourse on future social imaginaries.

Nicky is currently working on a paper addressing the balance between automation and augmentation. She questions whether AI's evolution is truly democratic or if it's governed by a few tech giants. She challenges the credentials of leaders like Elon Musk, who are making decisions with significant societal impact. Technology, Nicky argues, is often portrayed as neutral, but we must look at the organisations and their objectives behind its use, particularly regarding human values, dignity, and intellectual property.

She notes the public's low level of concern about technology and cautions against mistaking this for a lack of understanding—similar to early perceptions of climate change. She advocates for technology that serves humanity, enhancing rather than diminishing the quality of life.

Professor Dries calls for a political and democratic debate on GenAI, emphasising the need to consider its global and societal implications. This is a call for collective and inclusive deliberation, considering the psychological, economic, and social impacts of GenAI, to ensure it benefits all of humanity.


Concluding the evening, Arnaud Bacros, Managing Director of Belgium and Luxembourg at Dell Technologies, synthesised the discussions, highlighting GenAI's critical role in our times. He urged that GenAI integration should be approached with thorough ethical, societal, and human-centric considerations. A balanced approach is essential for businesses to leverage AI's transformative power while remaining mindful of its societal effects.

The roundtable proved that the dialogue on Generative AI extends beyond technology into socio-political and economic realms. The ongoing challenge is to harness AI's vast potential while upholding human values and dignity.


Posted in:CIONET Belgium

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