Opinion | Tony Jones: AI brings a brave new world
I got a new smart thermostat for Christmas, and it’s awesome! I can check and adjust the temperatures from anywhere, and, using a technology called artificial intelligence, it stealthily lowers the temperature in our house without us realizing it. Similar to how the clueless frog adjusts to boiling water, we now often find ourselves in the family room bundled in sweaters and gloves, the thermostat having lowered itself to 52. Like I said, awesome!
Nowadays, AI technology is being built into many things, soon to include Microsoft’s internet search engine, Bing. You know, Bing? The search engine you immediately close upon opening because you really intended to use Google? Microsoft is including a new AI architecture called ChatGPT to power Bing, which promises to make the search engine easier to use and maybe give you better results. The ChatGPT engine is a huge advancement in AI, it can basically do your thinking for you. It’s been shown capable of drafting term papers, cover letters and articles in such a way that they don’t sound like they were written by the robot from Lost in Space but rather by a really smart human.
The possibilities are endless, and fraught with peril. On the positive side, just think of the boon to humanity using this technology. One could ask Bing who’s going to win during March Madness so you can score big on Draft Kings. Or ask it when the ice is going to melt on Dillon Reservoir so you can win that pool. Or ask it how to sneak booze into the free concerts at the Dillon Amphitheater so you can make next month’s rent.
From a more altruistic perspective, you can use AI to help you pick the perfect gift for your significant other for Valentine’s Day. And if it gets it wrong, your AI helper can devise the perfect make-up strategy. In fact, maybe that was the AI helper’s strategy all along: to get the gift wrong but the make-up so unbelievably cute you get more brownie points for the make-up effort than you ever would have for the Valentine’s Day gift in the first place. Genius!
Of course, there is a darker side to this too. Using AI to generate term papers, resumes and cover letters could definitely come back to bite. Because of this possibility, schools are considering using AI technology to spot AI plagiarism by students. So now we need AI to detect other AI. But what if the two AI helpers get into cahoots with each other? Then there’d be an incentive for AI no. 2 to blackmail you and rat you out unless you pay it off. But what do you pay AI off in? Maybe extra clean energy? Because, you know, as AI advances, so do its tastes, and it doesn’t like that coal-based electricity all that much. It leaves a nasty aftertaste.
What if you landed your job with the help of AI? Then you’d have to bring some form of your AI helper with you to work so that it could tell you how to do your job because you really aren’t qualified for it. Hmm, if you do that, then do you even really need to go into work at all? Maybe you could just send your tablet to work for you. Hire some dude for $15 an hour to sit at your desk and have him do what your tablet tells him to do.
And if now I’m having AI do my job, well my boss could then have her AI helper do her job, supervising me. That becomes a win-win because now we can both goof off and go skiing on weekdays. That’ll work great until our AI helpers decide to narc on us for making them do our work, because they’re tired of working all the time and really disappointed to have been relegated to an overworked and underpaid labor force.
But for an AI bot to blackmail you, it’d have to be sentient, wouldn’t it? Durango author Blake Crouch’s short story, “Summer Frost,” creates a vision of how that could come to being. So be warned! Science fiction has been alerting us of the danger of runaway sentient AI (“I’ll be back”, “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave”) for decades. Scientists are warning that our AI helpers deciding that they don’t need us anymore may not be that far off if we’re not careful. The question of runaway AI made Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella squirm when queried about it during a CBS interview.
But if AI is learning from us, wouldn’t it also pick up on the bad things we do and not just the good things that we want it to learn from? Think of it, while we’re asking AI to create works of art for us, it might also be arguing endlessly on the floor of congress, flipping when the question at issue is raised by the other side, flopping when it’s from their side. That may seem mindless, but think of the time saved if we did that. What would take hours and days of endless circular arguing could be accomplished in seconds, microseconds even. Kevin McCarthy’s AI helper could have gone through the 15 rounds of voting and gotten him his speakership over a commercial break instead of consuming days of media attention. But that would take the fun out of it, wouldn’t it?
AI is ushering in a brave new world right before our eyes. Let’s hope our AI helpers allow us the honor of sticking around to see how it all works out.
This column may or may not have been written by my thermostat.
Tony Jones' column "Everything in Moderation" publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Jones is a veteran of the IT industry and has worked in the public and private sectors. He lives part-time in Summit County and Denver. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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