Are You Afraid of AI?

At the end of March, Elon Musk and other industry luminaries signed an open letter stating, “We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least six months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.”

In many respects, the questions asked about advanced AI in this letter mirror the discussion from as early as 1955 asking, “Should we fear automation?”

  • Automation, boon or bane? [Bloomberg News; 10/8 1955]
  • Automation Brings Fear of Joblessness; Production Lines Speeding Up [NY Times; 7/17/1961]
  • Will Automation Cause Mass Unemployment? [The Atlantic Magazine; December 1961]
  • Robots May Take Over Most Jobs in 30 Years, Experts Say [Washington Post Business; 6/10/1984]

If you substitute AI for Robots and Automation, you could have a headline in today’s news. Indeed the warnings given in Pause Gian AI Experiments: An Open Letter are legitimate. The major questions asked in the letter are:

  • Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? 
  • Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? 
  • Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? 
  • Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?

These are all important questions that must be answered as AI moves forward. All areas of technical development that impact the lives of humans should be questioned. Here are some other areas of development that could dramatically impact society.

  • Genetics – gene splicing and sequencing
  • Biotechnology – custom viruses to infect or cure
  • Nanotechnology – building machines at the molecular level that can work inside cells

I am confident you have heard about these in the news. What you may not have heard is that each of these technologies, including robotics and AI can be used for the good of society or for the control of society; for good or evil. You may know the arguments for and against nuclear energy. Frankly, fire can be used for good or evil.

So let me cut to the chase and keep this short. IMHO it’s not the technology that should be feared; it’s not even the people who invent and develop the technology; it’s the people to decide how to use the technology that need to be watched.

I grew up as a geek. I was (and still am) interested in every area of science and technology available. I programmed computers before they had screens and keyboards. I am fascinated by technology. So just the other day, I had my first chat with an AI.

I needed ideas on how to carefully and precisely cut soft plastic, such as on a plastic garbage can. I interacted with ChatGPT, an AI language program developed by OpenAI. My interaction was with version 3 and version 4 has just been released. The open letter references GPT-4 and requests that nothing more powerful be worked on for a while.

A sea otter in the style of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer, an image generated by DALL-E (all images courtesy OpenAI)

Perhaps you have seen AI draw detailed pictures like the one above. ChatGPT doesn’t do that. Without going into detail about different types of AI, think of ChatGPT as an app that understands what you type and can converse with you. In addition, it has access to the internet to find information and therewith answer your questions.

All of the bullet points above came from ChatGPT-3. You can read the full conversation here. For me, this type of AI is wonderful. I would describe it as a conversational search engine without the advertising. What could possibly be better?

So please, don’t fear technology. Embrace the good that could come from it. Encourage productive use of it. And keep your eye on the people who want to exploit it for their evil gains.