When ChatGPT went live, it convinced a good chunk of the internet that the end was nigh. This artificial intelligence that can write sonnets, code, and help you cheat on your exams has been harkened as the end of human agency.
We’ve been here before. It was not long ago that the end of truth was declared with the arrival of deep fake content, which would be able to slap anyone’s face on an avatar or stranger’s body, and make them say or do something they’d never done.
But I think we’re too concerned with potential uses of emerging technologies, and not concerned enough with the adoption and adaptations of older tech.
Fake news from Web 2.0 is far more effective at manipulating large audiences than any dystopian AI has been in current weeks. For instance, ousted Peruvian president Pedro Castillo’s secret weapon hasn’t been some newfangled AI, but the widespread use of TikTok among his supporters who use the platform to organize protests and share messaging among like-minded people. This was all very cutting-edge technology a few years ago; TikTok’s algorithm is a master class in machine-learning and giving people the content they want to see, but we no longer see it as a game changer because TikTok is just so much a part of our daily lives now.
Similarly, earlier this year, a relative political lightweight got within an inch of Colombia’s presidency for his cunning use of the most quotidian of technologies: WhatsApp.
That is ultimately the paradox we face with technology and its effects on society. Often, the more revolutionary the tech seems, the further it is from actually being widespread enough to be revolutionary. Societies need to be far enough ahead on the “technology adoption curve” to see any real effects.
New technologies need time. Time for people to find new and unexpected uses for them, and then, time for a critical mass of users to catch on. This is why — despite all the promise of crypto over the past few years — as the hype begins to settle, we find ourselves living not in a new, Bitcoin-driven libertarian utopia, but rather, in a society where the biggest crypto company in Latin America is the one that hacked one of the most timeless of issues: How do I send money across borders without having to pay Western Union? Crypto remittances.
For now, worrywarts and investors might benefit from shifting their attention from the latest gimmick to whatever tech has just become uncool enough for anyone to use it — and which is, therefore, now prevalent enough to make a real difference.
Having said that, according to coverage from 2019, OpenAI — ChatGPT’s creator — deemed a version of its AI chatbot to be too dangerous for public release. They said the bot could easily be used for nefarious reasons — namely, quick AI-generated fake news. What changed? Was it simply that this AI became mainstream enough for them to release it to the public? Perhaps we are close to the day when we’ll have to start worrying about AI chatbots.