7 boring thoughts on AI
I am really not sure if I should write another post about AI. I mean, what's the point? Everything has already been said, hasn't it? So here are my 7 (probably boring) thoughts:
1. AI is a useful tool
Whether you think the current form of AI deserves the label "intelligent" or not, no one can deny that it solves a huge class of problems that previously could not be solved by computers. I especially see improvements in accessibility, where natural language processing, image recognition, or summarizing information are extremely important.
2. AI is post-modern
So AI is useful, but it is also deeply non-rational. Its whole point is that we do not understand how it finds its answers and which kinds of biases are involved. We see that AI makes rapid progress in areas where the rational approach that defined modernity has failed, but we do not yet have a framework to evaluate that non-rational approach. This makes AI a prime example of post-modernity.
3. AI is stupid, but humans are stupid, too
Some people keep telling us of all the flaws and biases in AI. The most prominent (but untrue) example being the neural net tank legend. I do think that this work is important, because too many people blindly trust what a computer says. But our response should not just be "we have to keep a human in the loop".
Humans are also just statistical machines with flaws and biases. Our concept of morality is inconsistent at best, and most of us cannot even confidently perform simple math. Instead of relying on humans, we should find robust ways to deal with those flaws.
4. AI is flawed in unexpected ways
The one thing humans have going for them is that we are used to their flaws. All of our systems are designed to limit the impact of human error. When AI has a flaw, chances are that the flaw manifests in a way we are not prepared for.
5. Talking to AI is a weird way of talking to humans
I keep coming back to the 2017 34C3 keynote by Charles Stross, in which he argues that our AI overlords are already here, and they are called corporations:
they're clearly artificial, but legally they're people. They have goals, and operate in pursuit of these goals. […] Finally, our legal environment today has been tailored for the convenience of corporate persons, rather than human persons
Talking to a corporations, e.g. by calling a support hotline, is weird. You are talking to a human on the other end, but you understand that talking to that person as a representative for a corporation is different from talking to that person in private. They are not free to say what they think. They have to be polite. And they are replaceable: if you call that same hotline again, you will talk to the same corporation, but to a different human.
This is a weird form of communication, but one we have adapted to. It is also not the only one:
- Reading a book is also pretty weird if you think about it. It is a one-sided conversations with a person that might already be dead. Still, some people have deep discussions with the bible or something.
- Reports from the early times of the telephone suggest that talking to a disembodied voice of a far away person is weird.
- Even talking in groups is weird. Humans have created formal systems to mediate who should speak next and how much airtime everyone gets. Reactions to your statement only come once people in the queue have gotten their turn, and by then everyone might have forgotten what you said.
Large language models (the kind of AI tech we are currently talking about) are hive minds, made up from millions of texts written by humans. Talking to AI is, in some way, a weird way of talking to those people all at once.
6. Being nice is always a good idea
Should you say "please" when talking to AI?
I say you should. Mostly to keep the habit. If we don't, I see future generations having a hard time socialising because they are used to shouting commands at their virtual assistants all day long. I also don't see any reason not to. So I will keep trying to be nice in conversations, no matter with whom. (It actually bugs me that most programming is expressed in the form of commands.)
7. AI is alien
To me, fear of AI feels awfully similar to a general fear of the "other", whether that "other" is real AI, an alien life form, or simply someone from a different country. Why should we fear them? What reason would they have to attack us? Why should we even make a distinction between "us" and "them"?
I am not saying that we should be naive. But it's worth examining whether our suspicions are rooted in valid concerns or if they stem from our tendency to fear the unknown.
Here is a conclusion that ChatGPT wrote for this article. I actually like it!
So there you have it. I hope that you've found a nugget or two of interest. And if not, well, at least we've shared a moment of honest boredom together. In the end, that's not such a bad thing to share.