When the AI story broke in the spring, most articles expressed amazement, and tried to cover the matter without hype. Soon thereafter, the possibility of a major AI-caused disaster took over, and people wrote long, hazy pieces speculating on the chance of humanity going extinct under ChatGPT’s virtual boot. For the next couple of months, AI dominated the technology-related press, to the point where I could not find any material for the regular robotic subsegments on my radio gigs. It weakened in late May and early June, when commentators seemed to be talked out, and reappeared with a different tone last month, as a combination of reservations, limitations, negative thoughts, and legal reactions, combined with a lack of new AI achievements, took over. Here I will go through 12 published things from the past eight weeks.
It's a blessing when a powerful group admits they don’t understand something, so it was good to read that “Congress seeks crash course on AI from insiders,” by Cat Zakrzewski and Cristiano Lima, in the June 18th Washington Post. Legislators hope to achieve, per Representative Mark Takano of California, “a repository of expertise that is more in an anticipatory mode, that has quicker turnarounds, that can deliver responses more quickly,” and “is not tainted or connected to commercial interests.” Let us wish them success.
Five days later we read in Engadget.com, “US lawyers fined $5,000 after including fake case citations generated by ChatGPT” (Sarah Fielding). AI laziness is already a phenomenon, and this kind of result – both errors and a judge discovering them – could sink the technology for many valuable-seeming purposes. As people have fooled driverless cars through their data-collecting systems, they could large language models, by publishing bogus legal precedents and other “factual” accounts of things which did not happen. Confusing reality with fiction is also why we need to see “How AI will revolutionize politics in 2024, and why voters must be vigilant” (Brian Athey, Fox News, June 2nd). Beyond ability to generate high-quality videos and other campaign tools, it can produce “misinformation, deep fakes and… imagery.” As we learned in the past two elections about voters absorbing untruths, we can see that there will be plenty more next year, some of which may be blocked, as “A.I.’s Use in Elections Sets Off a Scramble for Guardrails” (Tiffany Hsu and Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times, June 25th).
In five days there were three actions taken against the technology. Per Riddhi Setty in Bloomberg Law on July 10th, “Sarah Silverman, Authors Hit OpenAI, Meta With Copyright Suits.” We’re in the early stages of automata not only absorbing proprietary material but circulating it uncredited. These class-action efforts were filed by three authors, and could become landmarks. In The Economist’s July 14th “The World in Brief,” we saw that “America’s Federal Trade Commission opened an inquiry into OpenAI’s handling of consumer data and security practices… reportedly probing whether the startup’s products – principally ChatGPT – could cause reputational damage by publishing misleading information about real people,” and “that training artificial intelligence on personal information could be a form of fraud.” The same source reported that the Hollywood writers and actors now on strike, among other things, are “also asking for guarantees that AI will not be used to replace them,” which may be the first time surging unions took on burgeoning technology but surely won’t be the last.
The common thread here is AI’s use of incoming data. That has recently gone further elsewhere, as “’Not for Machines to Harvest’: Data Revolts Break Out Against A.I.” (Sheera Frenkel and Stuart A. Thompson, July 15th, The New York Times.) The lead example is from an author who discovered that “a data company had copied her stories and fed them into the artificial intelligence technology underlying ChatGPT.” Nothing should be controversial here – for decades, routine copyright notices have proscribed putting such content into electronic banks – and this, if anything, is worse. Expanding even more is “Big Tech took your data to train AI. We’re suing them for it” (Ryan Clarkson, Fox News, July 19th). It’s no certainty that companies can use personal information without clear permission. Overall, we’re heading for a huge legal collision, and it doesn’t look good for AI.
One odd thing about AI has been its practitioners asking for more regulation. That doesn’t seem like a way of getting a competitive advantage, such as McDonald’s supporting higher minimum wages knowing they can withstand them better than their competitors, but shows not only uncertainty about its safety but also the tendency of experts closer to a field being more pessimistic than general prognosticators, as documented in “Bringing down the curtain” (The Economist, July 15th). That may account for the newly visible AI startup, Anthropic, (“Inside the White-Hot Center of A.I. Doomerism,” Kevin Roose, The New York Times, July 11th), with huge office signs saying THINK SAFETY on display, workers talking freely about their products’ severe dangers, and many reading about nuclear bomb history and comparing “themselves to modern-day (bomb-inventing) Robert Oppenheimers.”
Yet the last word, for now, goes to something very American. In “A Blessing and a Boogeyman: Advertisers Warily Embrace A.I.” (July 18th, The New York Times), in which authors Tiffany Hsu and Yiwen Lu related how products are mentioning the technology in their pitches, from the aforementioned restaurant chain citing a ChatGPT endorsement-of-sorts to “digital avatars” of famous people hawking products. There will be much more – there need be no existential uncertainty about that.
I will have no post next week. I will return with the jobs report and AJSN two weeks from this morning.