May 4, 2023
It feels like everywhere I’ve turned the past few weeks I’ve seen articles about AI popping up. Most of them… not very optimistic.
Just as a smattering of headlines: The Godfather of A.I. Leaves Google and Warns of Danger Ahead; What Exactly Are the Dangers Posed by A.I.?; Will a Chatbot Write the Next ‘Succession?’; We Must Regulate A.I. Here’s How.; Uh-Oh, I Seem to Be Dating a Chatbot; We Are Opening the Lids on Two Giant Pandora’s Boxes.
All of these headlines are from less than a week ago. All of them are from the New York Times.
The last headline was written by Thomas Friedman, suggesting that our two “pandora’s boxes” are AI and climate change. With all due respect, I feel that his better headline was from March, calling this, “Our New Promethean Moment.” The legend of Prometheus, in a nutshell, is that he was a Greek titan who disobeyed the gods to bring fire to humankind.
Because this is a tool. Not inherently good or bad. Not anything nefarious or virtuous. The problem comes when we realize that this tool will be used by *gulp* humans.
Because, in general, we stink.
I don’t mean that you stink, or that I stink, or that your family does. But you put enough people in one place and things will inevitably go wrong.
There is such a broad spectrum of risk involved in generative AI; but today I want to focus on one in particular: disinformation.
I was talking with someone about AI just the other day, and in that conversation realized that the end result of AI is that fairly soon we will no longer be able to trust anything we see on a screen. Ever. Not emails. Not chat boxes. Not audio recordings. Not pictures. Not videos.
Just last month the World Photography Organization gave an award to Boris Eldagsen for his photo called, The Electrician. The catch? The photo was completely fabricated. The artist declined the award, using the opportunity to start a discussion on the use of AI in art.
Then there’s this video, made by revel.ai: https://truepic.com/revel/#
These two examples are from people demonstrating the capabilities of this new technology, not as a way of deceiving, but as a way of educating. Others will not be so thoughtful.
I bring this up because I have spent the past few weeks talking theoretically about the ethical limits of AI. It’s full of murky gray areas that we will need to spend a lot of intentional time considering. The spread of disinformation is not a gray area. It is something that has been happening via email for years, has accelerated with social media, and will explode with AI technology.
Both of these images are completely fake. You can see how they might be misused.
I don’t have any great insight or takeaway this week. I’m just concerned about how this may unfold. When you get an email, check the address of the person who sent it. Do you know the address? If not, is it claiming to be someone you know? Are they asking for something? When you see something inflammatory online, check the source that it comes from. Is it a reputable news source? Is it being reported in other places? When you see a video of someone in power urging fear or panic, make sure it is genuinely that person. Is it coming from a verified channel? Does it genuinely seem to reflect the person’s beliefs? Is it coming from a trusted source? As Pontius Pilate once said, “What is truth?”
I may be sounding alarmist, but as we’ve seen in the past, disinformation can have an outsized effect on our culture. And that’s before this technology is widely available.
Jesus tells us to be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” He wasn’t talking about Artificial Intelligence (at least, I don’t think so), but it is sound advice as we approach this new promethean moment.
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