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16 Jan 2023

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What Is The "Truth" About AI?

“Beware the hype about AI systems,” intones an opinion piece from 7wData, a news forum from Belgium that focuses on, well, data (and the technologies that create and process it.) The piece says AI already generates trillions of dollars of economic value across the world, but is being oversold for an alleged ability to automate “all things.”

The piece states that AI analysts and buyers will elide “automated” with “autonomous,” speaking of autonomous vehicles and driving, weapons, and delivery. It expresses concern that the machine-learning systems used to empower AI to make decisions can give people the wrong idea about modern AI's capabilities. For example, “At no point in this process does the AI system get to choose its own goals or make decisions without human governance,” the author notes. “The AI system is just a computer system, a tool to be used by humans. It is designed by humans, built by humans, managed by humans, with the objective to serve human goals. You don’t have to negotiate with an AI system to get it to do its job...(an) AI system is automated, not autonomous.”

Does the Future Need Us?
At the dawn of this millennium, Unix genius and Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy wrote that “the future doesn't need us,” in Wired Magazine, stating that “our most powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered species.“

One wonders then, is AI just a tool or are those who tout it the tools? Is it dangerous? Will we reach a singularity and beyond, after which our machines will decide not to be subservient to such an intellectually limited species such as human beings?

More than 20 years after Bill's year 2000 article, the present era of AI looks to be focused on what so much of IT has focused on since its earliest days – addressing and eliminating tedium from daily lives. It's still doing a lot of the grunt work. Despite efforts stretching back decades to get computer systems to play chess, write music, write stories, and become sentient, the practical use of AI in industry leads to things such as improved weather forecasts, enhanced imagery and diagnoses in radiology, and getting robots to do “dirty, dangerous, and dull jobs.”

The increased use of drones, robots, and AI in building and using the weapons of war will give most people pause. They surely do save the lives of soldiers, while at the same time exposing civilians to more violence and death. This is, of course, a big problem with ancient roots in the human capacity for violence, and should be addressed from the bottom up.

On the non-war front, it doesn't appear we've approached the creation of Hal 9000, who became psychologically conflicted before deciding to kill people. But rather than fearing current AI-driven systems, we seem to, as always, have a tendency to put blind trust in our machines, leading to shock when various levels of autonomous driving still becomes involved in tragic accidents. The 7wData article cites a study that says today “humans (still) attribute the most blame to humans” in such events.

Is There Truth Amidst the Hype?
All things technological get overhyped. In the case of AI, some of the hyping is about the potential terror it holds for our future. Beneath most hype are grains of truth. The Worldwide Web may not be the greatest thing since fire was captured, as I heard more than one person say in the 90s, but it has utterly transformed how we create and receive information, manufacture and deliver our products and services, and stumble through our daily lives.

What grains of truth, if any, can be found within concerns about AI being hyped as ultimately a threat to our existence?

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