Five weeks ago, I published a post about an artificial intelligence backlash, or reactions against it from various directions. Since then, when we factor out the news stories speculating about AI’s effects on employment, telling us about new or not-so-new robotics advances, and subjective investment advice, there hasn’t been much good, and it adds up to something worse.
First, as shown in “CheatGPT,” by Aki Ito in Business Insider on August 1st, we have workers using AI against company rules, taking advantage of lagging or overly cautious policies as well as thoughtfully reasoned ones. That is really an issue between employer and employee but could turn out to cause the former real problems when accuracy is not what it seems. Such isn’t rare, as “When Hackers Descended to Test A.I., They Found Flaws Aplenty” (Sarah Kessler and Tiffany Hsu, The New York Times, August 16th). At the Defcon hacker’s conference this month, participants “tried to break through the safeguards of various A.I. programs in an effort to identify their vulnerabilities.” They were able to get the software to make racist and discriminatory statements, select sample job applicants by Indian caste, and write factually about nonexistent people, places, and constitutional amendments. Efforts like these, in this case strictly benevolent, are invaluable, with experts revealing previously unknown flaws – the bad news is that those shortcomings are real.
Is, or will it, be true that “AI is ruining the internet” (Arantza Pena Popo, Business Insider, August 8th)? The programs are now able to defeat many of the human-verifying “captchas,” causing sites to make theirs so difficult many actual people cannot get through. A Europol study estimated that within “a few years,” ninety percent “of internet content” will be produced by AI systems and will contain significant errors. That could result in online resources seeming “engineered for the machines and by the machines,” its value could greatly decrease, and it may in turn poison future AI improvements.
The most telling of these articles, though, is “Digging for digits” (The Economist, August 19th). It told us about how the world is running out of accessible, non-copyrighted data, for which companies are competing and paying increasing amounts to use. Some of that will be inputs into ChatGPT 5, which may be released before the end of the year.
But how about ChatGPT 6? If we see that one someday, it may not be fundamentally better. Why?
Although conceptually it could be boundless, artificial intelligence is being stopped on several different fronts. First is copyright problems, with unauthorized incorporation of legally protected work well integrated into ChatGPT 4, and certain to result in further lawsuits and massive settlements, with a chance that its entire knowledge set could need to be erased and rebuilt. Second is chip shortages – developing large language models at contemporary strengths consumes more silicon than it can get. Third is calls for more regulation, which, with governmental authorities perennially behind the curve with technical issues, could impede or even halt development, production, or both. Fourth is an upcoming data shortage as above.
The fifth limit, and perhaps the ultimate, is money. ChatGPT 5 will cost in the billions of dollars. Since growth is exponential, there is a real chance that ChatGPT 6 or its equivalent would run in the hundreds of billions. Even in as future-oriented a field as information technology, companies, venture capitalists, and other lenders and resource providers want results quickly and will see the other four problems.
Six years ago, driverless cars seemed poised to take over world roads within a generation. Now, although they have done well in useful if controversial niches such as taxicab travel, and their technology is turning up more and more in human-driven autos, their overall development has apparently stalled, with little press about them becoming the norm. A serious around-1970 prediction said that within two decades artificial hearts would be, after cars, the second largest American industry – it is now possible to get one, but its implementations are measured in dozens.
The same may happen with artificial intelligence. It may find its role in business writing, and as a lower-end substitute for human effort. By 2040, people may laugh about the idea that this business tool could take over the world, and compare its dangers to those of copiers. Or not. Will artificial intelligence stay way short of its potential? I don’t know, but we need to seriously consider that possibility.