Kerala Technology
A seismic event in the cyber world

This image was generated by Dall.E 2 with prompt words generated by ChatGpt.

A seismic event in the cyber world

Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on December 19, 2022
Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on December 19, 2022

Every once in a while, something happens that yanks you away from whatever you were doing and leaves you pondering about the future. Nope, we are not talking about the arrival of our first newsletter.

The release of ChatGPT, the bot from Elon Musk-founded OpenAI, was the event we were referring to, and some techies were describing it as the cyber equivalent of the first atomic test.

OpenAI has been at the forefront of driving AI chatter on the social media into realms which a few months back would have sounded like science fiction. But ever since they unveiled GPT-3, it has been a mad rush between the big guys – Google, Microsoft, Amazon et al – to get ahead in the race. And every few weeks there had been some jolts – like the arrival of DallE2, Stable Diffusion, Github Copilot and likes – to make us sit up and gape in wonder at what was appearing on our screens.

The latest in this line is ChatGPT. (Sign up with OpenAI if you haven't. Over a million did in less than a week.)

The social media has been going crazy with all kinds of chats generated by this bot and the amazement expressed by even hard-nosed experts tells you it is no ordinary bot.

The examples of how the bot generated entire computer programs responding to users’ chat take it to another level while the fiction, poetry and scientific papers it churned out show the immense potential of it – and also its pitfalls. The bot does make up things and can even put some links to make it look like authentic information.

The possibility of it upending some established ways of the IT sector, like code and text generation, is a storm in a distant world for those outside of that environment. You know, like the chatter about how robotics and AI are going to change everything. All that sounds futuristic and distant.

But this ChatGPT model could trigger changes the very way you and I surf the internet. Instead of googling for information, which will get you a few links, an AI-powered chat bot can give you a concise answer to your question. Just like a useful assistant. Okay, you need to verify the information but it will save you time of clicking on different links, spare you of the ads that jump at you when you open a link and get you the information straight away.

That could be truly a disruptive change if Google's status as a search engine is dented. Now we have to wait and see how Google and other big guys respond to this.

“This is a corporate AI arms race,” said Brijesh Madhavan, who founded CurveLogics, a Trivandrum-based firm specialising in AI solutions. He says releasing a conversational search engine has been the dream of all these tech giants. “Amazon had tried to leapfrog with its Alexa, but that didn't go too far," reminds Brijesh. Amazon had recently started scaling down its Alexa division after spending billions of dollars on it.

A major problem these AI-aided program builders now face is the lack of validated data. The voracious appetite of these programs means most of what is available on print and digital forms has been used up. So experts say soon they will run out of good data.

This will hit home here in Kerala as verifiable data in digitalised form is scarce compared to other places. The government has initiated digitalisation in various sectors like land revenue, but there is a long way to go. In many cases, it is the quantitative aspect that officials focus on and not the quality.

Some individuals and private groups had done exemplary work in digitising data available in the state, but they don’t have the deep pockets to do it in a comprehensive manner. One such project to build a digital archive of Malayalam books and documents almost ground to a halt as neither government or the private sector were willing to spare what would be lose change for some these big-budgeted firms.

Achuthsankar. S. Nair, a professor of computer science with the University of Kerala and a person who has been working in AI in the academic sector for last three decades, says data needed for AI-driven programs will be based on its scope and the quantum of its availability is critical. “For many practical applications there is lack of validated data accessible to researchers and developers and this could hamper development of AI projects in the state,” he says.

Right now, many people in high places see efforts to digitise data as a waste of time and money. New AI-driven programs have shown that data is a real gold mine. Kerala needs to move on quickly and there should be a proactive partnership between the government, public and the private sector, big and small.

Reams have been written about bias in AI programs as most of them train on what is available on the internet and that is overwhelmingly Western oriented and more specifically white and male. Before you dismiss it as another one of those debates happening far away, just do this: scan through the websites of the IT firms based in the Technopark and see the images they have used. Why do most have illustration of young, white people huddling together and not images of local people instead? Simple answer: most of the images are obviously taken from online image providers and we don’t have platforms here providing such images.

And therein lies a snapshot of our data deficiency.



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