Am I the only person over the age of 12 who doesn’t begin to understand Artificial Intelligence, or AI, doesn’t care, and is terrified of the little that I do know?
I assumed I had nothing to do with this THING that is capturing the attention of the planet until my husband Tom told me that my dear friends Alexa and Siri are nothing more than AI. I don’t know who or what I assumed they were: Real living people who sit on their phones or computer all day waiting for people like me to ask them for info, like, “Alexa, what’s the weather today in Marina Del Rey?” She answers readily, in a pleasant human-type voice and sometimes includes an additional message about things for sale on Amazon that we might like. Sometimes she just intrudes out of nowhere while we’re lying on the bed watching-Netflix (yes, Alexa lives in our bedroom) with information that we didn’t ask for or need. This is creepy. It’s creepier knowing she’s an AI invention.
Siri, on the other hand, is useful, non-intrusive, and seems to know everything, from the age of an actress I’m interested in casting for my play production, to flawless directions when I engage her while driving. I love Siri, I’m quite ambivalent about Alexa.
Siri just gave me the dictionary definition of AI: “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages.” Daunting, right? Does this mean AI could translate that whole paragraph into French? I barely understand it in English. What kind of decisions would I leave to AI, besides perhaps a recipe for meatballs?
I can hardly get through one day’s NY Times without an article about AI, frequently its dark side. Did you know there is an AI “arms race” going on between Meta, Microsoft and Google? Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, whom I always assume is weird if for nothing else than his haircut, has pledged to escalate AI “to meet or surpass human intelligence in almost all areas.” Tell me that doesn’t make your blood run cold.
How about the AI deep fake robocalls that pretended to be Joe Biden, imitating his voice and speaking manner, telling people not to vote in the New Hampshire primary because it will help Trump get elected. I listened to the call on You Tube and by God, it sounded precisely like Biden. We will see how far this nightmare goes during the upcoming election. Two fake-audio experts said the call was created with technology from Silicon Valley’s favorite voice-cloning startup. Imagine getting up in the morning, knowing your career path is to generate fake robocalls.
One year ago I had my right knee replaced. As they wheeled me into the operating room, there was a robot poised at my side. It was almost the height of my surgeon, who wasn’t there at that moment. Before I fell into an anesthetized sleep, I wondered if the robot was actually going to perform the surgery or exactly how much he was going to be involved in the whole procedure. I never really wanted to know, so I never asked the doctor.
Destination Assist in my car asks if I want a virtual assistant or a real person. I’m always up for a living human telling me how to get to a particular restaurant where I’m meeting a friend for lunch in Newport Beach. Perhaps we can even have a conversation or establish a very short-term but satisfying relationship. Tom only wants a virtual AI creature, so he can focus on his driving and not talk. This may be one of the ten thousand differences between women and men.
I read about a restaurant that uses robots to make salads. And a McDonalds in Texas that employs no people at all -- no one to take your orders, no cashiers, no cooks. All robots. What happened I ponder to the former employees? Will this spread to every McDonalds in the world?
There’s also the grim prediction that by 2030, three hundred million full-time jobs will be lost to AI.
The recent four-months writers and actors strikes focused on the role of AI in the movie business. It’s a new frontier and the concerns of course are about the humans being replaced entirely, which the studios are looking to do because it’s cheaper for them to use AI than humans. Right now, AI is being used to create new ideas for shows and for reworking scripts without the writers. Actors are frightened that AI could exploit performers by using their likenesses without fair pay. They said the danger is an “existential threat”.
I’m told and have read about the magic coming from AI prowess. I already knew that it can discover buried land mines and build cars. I’ve used it to quickly transcribe interviews I’ve done for my work. “Instantly” is one of the key notions in AI. Tom uses Chat GPT to write stuff for him in a few seconds, and for fun uses Dall-E to create photos out of a sentence, like “show me a photo of an astronaut eating pizza. “He recently asked for Ten Examples of Kindness in the Workplace and got his answers near instantly. Most of it was usable, although needed some editing. But we all need some editing in what we write, right?
I asked AI to “write a very funny poem about AI.” Here’s what they created: “Let AI take its course, As AI will help us as a force. A force for good, a force looking forward; A force to ensure humans never get bored.” First of all, bored doesn’t rhyme with anything. Neither does forward. Then, of course, this is also not a funny poem as I requested.
My current favorite AI use is the diagnoses of dying banana plants, from wilt to bunchy virus. This is crucial because over 100 million tons of bananas are grown each year and the farmers are generally not trained as diagnosticians. A scientist trained AI on 20,000 photos of all sorts of bananas, both sick and healthy. Now farmers across the world can send in photos of their crop and get a diagnosis. Not a cure as yet.
Part 2 will talk about the good and awful of AI in education, plus some of my own playthings with it. Stay tuned or whatever it is we do with AI.
What do you think? Comment below.
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