Opinion: The danger of artificial intelligence (AI)




Digital Editor’s Note: I’m delighted to welcome Peter Wright as a Guest Writer for Sorted Magazine. Peter spent most of his life in Africa before moving to Canada in 2004. He has worked for large and small corporations, started and owned several businesses and was a farmer. He’s also a published author, writer, speaker, marketer and co-founder of the popular podcast The Yakking Show. Peter doesn’t shy away from difficult topics or points of view and describes himself as a “contrarian”!

Peter writes: In 2023 Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most discussed topics in marketing circles. Most of the discussion is about whether AI will replace people who create content for a living. Copy and text content creators are the most concerned. Advances in graphic, audio and video content creation by AI will threaten more creators.

Whilst sad and traumatic for those directly affected, technology-driven job obsolescence is not new. Since the Industrial Revolution, advances in technology have caused workers to lose jobs and learn new skills. The early 20th century saw thousands of textile mill workers, wagon drivers, blacksmiths, and farm workers displaced by machines. The second half of the century decimated the number of employed elevator operators, typists, secretaries and fax machine technicians.

It has continued in the 21st century with ATMs replacing bank tellers. Online shopping and self-serve checkouts destroying huge numbers of jobs in the retail sector.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Some argue that Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will have a more devastating effect than all the other waves of technological advances combined. That may or may not be. Whether it will be a catastrophic tsunami or a damaging high tide remains to be seen.

As a contrarian thinker, I believe the danger of developments in AI is not in the number of jobs it may or may eliminate. It is more serious than that.

Machines have no conscience, no understanding of ethics. Humans learn the sense of what is right or wrong, ethical or not, moral or immoral over many years from birth to maturity. Without that sense of right and wrong, the ability to create content by an app or program that relies on machine learning opens up the possibility of changing the course of history.

The invention of the printing press allowed the dissemination of thoughts, ideas and opinions to a wide audience. A far larger group of people than could be spoken to in village squares or town halls. Steam engines permitted the printing and distribution of much greater numbers of newspapers than could be done by hand-cranked printing presses and horse-drawn carts.

Telegraph, radio, telephone, cinema, television and the Internet all increased the size of the audience that could be reached instantly. In the early and mid 1900s, all had gatekeepers with some level of neutrality. Editors in media, the influence of the church, censorship (a double-edged sword), strong family values, social customs and conventions.

The neutrality of the gatekeepers started fading away in the late 1900s. By the early 2000s it had shifted to a liberal bias. In my opinion this bias was exploited by governments of all political hues to engineer support for unnecessary wars and criminal actions against citizens.

Can Artificial Intelligence Development Be Paused?

Major players, including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, have expressed concern and called for a six-month pause in AI development according to this report from CBS News.

A pause sounds like a good idea. I believe it’s unlikely to happen because of the profit motive and the race to have the best AI system along with the difficulty in defining the scope of AI development. A government led attempt to ban the use of or slow down the development of AI will probably fail. What does and does not fall under the AI umbrella is difficult to define. One could argue that autospell and spellcheck tools are a form of AI because they rely on machine learning.

AI has too many beneficial uses for society to reject it completely. Attempts to ban or slow down the implementation of the products of previous waves of innovation failed. The Luddites did not burn all the Lancashire cotton mills, men walking with red flags in front of motor vehicles soon became unemployed. Consider the rapid adoption of disposable diapers (nappies) despite the environmental cost of huge increases in garbage going to landfills. These are all examples of convenience trumping concerns about the possibility of harmful and unintended consequences.

Artificial Intelligence will not go away and I think it’s unlikely that its development will slow down. It has great potential for good, but it has a huge potential for harm. It could introduce an unprecedented level of adversity for most of mankind.

It’s up to every one of us to be alert and discerning when consuming content ourselves and educating our children to do the same. We need to resist the subtle attempts at brainwashing, and controlling our thoughts. Resist attempts to convince us to accept restrictions on what we can do, see, read, and use in the name of convenience.

A longer version of this article was first published in Peter’s newsletter.

Main Photo Credit: Markus Winkler via Unsplash

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