AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In recent months, developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, including the groundbreaking ChatGPT platform, have had Silicon Valley buzzing and have generated a significant amount of mainstream media coverage. But does the reality of new AI tech live up to the hype?
Here are six common questions about AI and what you need to know about how this new technology might shake up the U.S. economy and even the way we interact with one another.
1 – What is Artificial Intelligence?
AI is any computer program that can perform a task that would otherwise require human intelligence without specific input from a human.
Programs and machines like calculators or most traditional computers are based on input and output. A person gives the program or software a command, and the machine returns the answer it was programmed to give. Even the most high-end and advanced personal computers are still based on this input/output system.
By contrast, artificial intelligence is any computer or machine that can go beyond the limits of its programming and perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. For example, mapping tools like Google Maps are not considered artificial intelligence because the programs use calculations and existing data about distance and time. However, that app can use artificial intelligence if it predicts traffic patterns or provides routing services using inferences from large amounts of historical data.
2 – Why is everyone suddenly talking about AI?
Forms of artificial intelligence have existed for years. Siri, the voice command program available on every iPhone, is a primitive form of artificial intelligence, and most facial recognition software has some form of AI incorporated into it. Tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have predicted for decades that more advanced AI would emerge that would have disruptive consequences for our economy and even for the future of humanity.
The most recent explosion of interest in AI began on November 30, 2022, with the release of ChatGPT, a product of the company OpenAI. The program is essentially an “artificial intelligence chatbot” that anyone can use for free.
By using a simple chat-like interface, users can ask ChatGPT to answer questions or even perform a variety of tasks like researching certain topics or summarizing long texts. Computer programmers have also used ChatGPT to write computer code.
What’s most impressive about ChatGPT is that it creates content on command. For example, users can ask ChatGPT to write a persuasive article about ChatGPT at a fifth-grade level specifically designed to appeal to liberal readers, and it would provide a surprisingly effective answer. Within a month, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing software application in history. Over 100 million users signed up for it within those 30 days.
3 – Does ChatGPT work?
Broadly speaking, GPT is incredibly effective in certain cases. Computer engineers struggling to find errors in complex code they’re writing can simply input their work into the chatbot, and it will generally find the bug and make a recommendation for fixing it. Major news networks like BuzzFeed announced they would use ChatGPT-like AI to create news articles. Their stock exploded by double digits following this announcement.
Yet the chatbot is far from perfect. Recently, a lawyer asked ChatGPT to cite a number of cases that would be relevant to a lawsuit he was working on. Instead of finding actual cases, ChatGPT made up fake decisions that the lawyer submitted to the court. The cases looked real, but they were nothing but inventions of the AI. To his utter humiliation, the fabrication was revealed in the middle of a courtroom, and he was forced to apologize and admit his overreliance on the new technology.
4 – Will AI Kill Entire Industries?
Earlier this year, Harvard Labor Economist Lawrence Katz flatly stated, “AI will wipe out a lot of current jobs, as has happened with all past technologies.”
In the past, technological innovations have replaced primarily blue-collar jobs, most notably with the onset of automation and robotics in the automotive and manufacturing industries. Some experts now believe that white-collar, nonrepetitive jobs like journalism, coding, and even screenplay and script writing could all be replaced with ChatGPT-like programs.
McKinsey Global Institute Labor Market Researcher Anu Madgavkar, for instance, believes, “50-60 percent of companies say they are pursuing AI-related projects, leading to an estimated 25 percent of all American workers using AI in their current positions.”
However, it is important to note that automation was widely predicted to kill all blue-collar jobs. Computers, we were told, would wipe out entire fields. While these new technologies did disrupt and cause layoffs in some industries, they also birthed entire new industries. In the same way, AI will likely not eliminate entire fields but simply augment them. All told, AI could create far more jobs than it eliminates.
5 – Will AI Destroy the World?
Last month, a story of a rogue AI went viral and sent the internet buzzing with renewed fears of a robot-dominated future. According to several articles, an Air Force colonel reported that a deadly military drone controlled by AI killed its operator when it attempted to stop the drone from completing its objective. As terrifying as the story was, it turned out to be false. In reality, the colonel was proposing a thought experiment. There was never any real test.
Still, the extreme virality of the story suggests a deep fear in America of what kind of future AI will bring. Science fiction is filled with stories about machines gaining sentience and rebelling against their human masters.
Yet these science fiction scenarios are just that – science fiction. AI may be able to write sonnets about Biden’s many political gaffes, yet it still struggles to match faces or automate driving. There are inherent risks to any new technology, but the fear of an all-powerful synthetic brain dooming humanity to destruction on a whim is still a remote to nonexistent possibility.
The more immediate threat of AI is the agenda of those who manage it. Already, woke CEOs and programmers are biasing ChatGPT specifically to make it “socially conscious.”
At one point, users were able to convince the AI to write pieces critical of former President Donald Trump, but not Joe Biden. If you search certain cultural issues like gender identity, election integrity, or the effectiveness of “woke ESG investing,” ChatGPT will decline to answer.
To address this concern, tech visionary Elon Musk has already pledged to make a new “woke-free” AI to challenge these programs.
6 – What Impact Will AI Have on the Economy?
Last week, respected financial analyst Dan Ives made a bold prediction that AI technology would become the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” galvanizing a “new tech bull market” that would see “a trillion dollars of incremental spending over the next decade.”
That sort of earth-shattering prediction would indicate that AI will be even more revolutionary than the internet.
As confident as such prognostications sound, however, bold and resounding tech prophecies like this have not aged particularly well in the last several years. Financial experts and Silicon Valley wunderkinds made similar claims about cryptocurrency, web 3.0, and the much-touted metaverse. All of these industries have either staggered, collapsed, or are being subsumed by SEC investigations.
Despite these setbacks, however, artificial intelligence may be the most important innovation of the 21st century. While there will undoubtedly be ups and downs as the technology comes to maturity, it seems evident that it is here to stay and will only become more influential in the years ahead.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.