AI systems are becoming so complex that researchers are unable to determine how these programs arrive at certain conclusions. Image: geralt /Pixabay
The year is 1440, and the Catholic Church has called for a six months moratorium on the use of the printing press and the movable type. Imagine what could happen if commoners get access to books. They could read the Bible for themselves and society would be destroyed.
This was a tweet sent out by Yann LeCun, a French computer scientist and the chief AI scientist at Meta. This sarcastic poser came after the Life Science Institute issued an open letter signed by thousands of tech experts, including Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and others, demanding a temporary halt to AI experiments. LeCun opposed any such ban, saying it would be like “taking a step back in terms of the progress of humanity”.
LeCun is not alone in opposing a ban on further research into regenerative AI, which has been proceeding at an explosive pace in the last few months. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google CEO Sundar Pichai have also been vocal in their opposition to calls for a halt in the current AI progression.
Still, the majority of experts do not dispute the claim that new AI platforms will have a profound impact on everyone. In a survey conducted by Stanford University for its annual AI index report, considered by some as the industry's state of the union report, 73 percent of respondents agreed that “AI could soon lead to revolutionary societal change”, while 36 percent believed it would cause a “nuclear-level catastrophe”.
The race to create more and more powerful AI programs is inevitably drawing comparisons to the atomic race during the Cold War era, but there are two crucial differences between the two. While the United States and the Soviet Union were racing to create more destructive nuclear weapons, the competition was between government-run facilities. In the case of artificial intelligence, governments have been in ringside seats, while the actual slugfest is being carried out between private companies.
The other major difference between the nuclear race and AI development is even more concerning.
AI systems are becoming so complex that researchers are unable to determine how these programs arrive at certain conclusions. Despite this, more and more powerful AI systems are being developed and incorporated into software that spans different fields, such as defence, medicine, and finance. The hi-tech firms in the race spend billions on making their AI programs more powerful, but very little attention or funding is devoted to understanding what goes on inside the black boxes of their systems.
As the AI revolution is predicted to generate trillions of dollars in business, there is very little incentive for leading companies to hold back. Even those who demand caution have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. A few weeks after calling for a halt on AI research, reports say Musk himself is getting ready to build a platform similar to ChatGPT.
The proliferation of AI power has already begun, and a recent report in The Washington Post stated that one tool, described as “Stable Diffusion for perverts”, has been downloaded 77,000 times already. People are also sharing ways to use AI technology to edit real images, including removing the clothing of fully dressed women in photographs. Meanwhile, a group in the US is offering fake bomb threat calls using AI-generated voices for as little as 50 US dollars.
Administrators of chat boards like Reddit report seeing an increased amount of AI-generated text appearing on their popular forums, while deepfake images and videos of world leaders, celebrities, and religious figures are becoming increasingly convincing.
While the debate about AI continues fiercely in the tech world, there is little movement to involve experts from other areas in the ethical aspects of these developments. As Sandra Wachter, an expert in technology regulation at the University of Oxford, recently wrote, this is too important an issue to be left solely in the hands of tech experts, as AI technology permeates almost every field.
“You really need to talk to lawyers, to people who do ethics, to people who understand economics and politics,” says Sandra Wachter, an expert in technology regulation at the University of Oxford. “The most important thing is that those questions are not decided among tech people alone.”
Tech wizards are often skilled at opening up new vistas in the cyber world but may not fully comprehend the impacts of their creations. Take, for example, social media platforms like Facebook, which were originally meant to connect people and bring them together. However, they have ended up being used as tools to organise riots, tear societies apart, and influence the future trajectory of even the most powerful nations.
As revenue and growth become the bottom line for many of these platforms, they have tweaked their workings to turn users into virtual slaves of the algorithms they have developed as a means to boost their company fortunes.
Given this, leaving the development of artificial intelligence in the hands of a few private firms is a worrying proposition. It becomes even more concerning when commentators like Ezra Klein of The New York Times reveal that their interactions with those in the ‘Cerebral Valley’ of San Francisco have converted them from being supporters of AI development to individuals who believe there is an urgent need for restraint.
In a recent column, Klein explained his change in attitude, stating, “Since moving to the Bay Area in 2018, I have tried to spend time regularly with the people working on AI. I don't know that I can convey just how weird that culture is. And I don't mean that dismissively. I mean it descriptively. It is a community that is living with an altered sense of time and consequence.”
He later said that many involved in creating powerful AI machines do agree that there is a 10 percent chance that their creations could go out of control and disempower or even extinguish humanity. Yet, there is still no responsibility pinned on the creators of these programs who continue to seek more powerful versions.
Some experts now suggest that we should look at how the aviation industry implemented stringent regulations and allowed the private sector to build planes, instead of the nuclear race during the Cold War. They argue that artificial intelligence (AI) is a similar technology with the potential to bring unlimited benefits to humanity, but it can also result in disasters if not handled properly. They propose that no manufacturer should be allowed to release their AI products to the market unless they comply with stringent standards. The question now is who will step up to bell our fat cats.
Kerala’s power crisis could dent the future EV market
Kerala continues to suffer from a brutal summer, and power consumption is going through the roof, prompting government officials to urge moderate power consumption during the peak hours in the evening. This makes us worried about the future of electric vehicles in the state. Though the number of EVs sold in the state continues to rise steadily, it only makes up a small percentage of the wheels on the road. In a recent report, Your Story quoted a Brookings report which says the majority of the load on India’s power grid is expected to come from EVs, higher than even steel and other industries. We sweat at the very thought of what lies ahead for Kerala.
But the transition to green energy is not a smooth ride for anyone. Japanese auto giant Toyota recently said it aims to launch 10 new EVs by 2026 in a bid to catch up with the market leaders Tesla and BYD. As the auto giant shifts its focus away from petrol and diesel cars, it is also estimated to cost tens of thousands of jobs in the auto parts sector in the country. Simply because electric vehicles need 30% to 40% fewer parts compared to the roughly 30,000 parts required for fossil fuel vehicles.
Cool startup makes sunglasses from waste wrappers
Turning waste into wealth is a subject that we recently touched upon. Even though Indian startups are yet to make a significant impact in this area, some bright sparks are emerging. A company in Pune is processing multi-layered packagings, such as chip packets and chocolate wrappers, and creating fashionable sunglasses. The company called Without has sold over 1,000 of these sunglasses in three months, generating a revenue of 12 lakh rupees, as reported by Entrackr. The company has received orders from big cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi, but what is even more heartening to read is that most of its customers are young adults ranging from 25 to 35-year-olds. Our youngsters are really cool, aren’t they?
Apple stores open in India finally
Apple is finally taking root in India, with the first outlet of the iPhone maker scheduled to open in Mumbai tomorrow, seven years after CEO Tim Cook toured the country to explore the market. The company founded by Steve Jobs has already started manufacturing iPhones in India, and according to reports, production has tripled in the last fiscal year. The US company now makes almost 7% of its iPhones in India, which is a significant leap for the country. However, this also reveals that most of Apple's products are still made in China, leaving Cook and the company at the mercy of US-China relations. If Beijing sneezes, Apple can still catch a cold.
Bumpy three-wheeler rides get a five-star upgrade
The unveiling of a new car model is usually a glitzy affair that makes eyes pop, but the BYD event to announce its latest star was kind of side-splittingly funny for us. The new Yangwang U9 bounced up and down and from side to side in a video posted on Twitter by the Chinese car maker. Business Insider reported that “at the culmination of the routine, the car squats down low and bursts upward, hopping what looks like an inch or two off the ground”. Just like the bone-jarring autorickshaw rides we take through the pothole-filled roads of Kerala better. Now that BYD has turned that into a top sales pitch, we will endure our daily bumpy rides with newfound respect.