AI Builders and the Illusions they Promote

May 24, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Why do AI firms insist on calling algorithmic mistakes “hallucinations” instead of errors, malfunctions, or glitches? The Guardian‘s Naomi Klein believes AI advocates chose this very human and mystical term to perpetuate a fundamental myth: AI will be humanity’s salvation. And that stance, she insists, demonstrates that “AI Machines Aren’t ‘Hallucinating.’ But their Makers Are.”

It is true that, in a society built around citizens’ well-being and the Earth’s preservation, AI could help end poverty, eliminate disease, reverse climate change, and facilitate more meaningful lives. But that is not the world we live in. Instead, our systems are set up to exploit both resources and people for the benefit of the rich and powerful. AI is poised to help them do that even more efficiently than before.

The article discusses four specific hallucinations possessing AI proponents. First, the assertion AI will solve the climate crisis when it is likely to do just the opposite. Then there’s the hope AI will help politicians and bureaucrats make wiser choices, which assumes those in power base their decisions on the greater good in the first place. Which leads to hallucination number three, that we can trust tech giants “not to break the world.” Those paying attention saw that was a false hope long ago. Finally is the belief AI will eliminate drudgery. Not all work, mind you, just the “boring” stuff. Some go so far as to paint a classic leftist ideal, one where humans work not to survive but to pursue our passions. That might pan out if we were living in a humanist, Star Trek-like society, Klein notes, but instead we are subjects of rapacious capitalism. Those who lose their jobs to algorithms have no societal net to catch them.

So why are the makers of AI promoting these illusions? Kelin proposes:

“Here is one hypothesis: they are the powerful and enticing cover stories for what may turn out to be the largest and most consequential theft in human history. Because what we are witnessing is the wealthiest companies in history (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Meta, Amazon …) unilaterally seizing the sum total of human knowledge that exists in digital, scrapable form and walling it off inside proprietary products, many of which will take direct aim at the humans whose lifetime of labor trained the machines without giving permission or consent. This should not be legal. In the case of copyrighted material that we now know trained the models (including this newspaper), various lawsuits have been filed that will argue this was clearly illegal. Why, for instance, should a for-profit company be permitted to feed the paintings, drawings and photographs of living artists into a program like Stable Diffusion or Dall-E 2 so it can then be used to generate doppelganger versions of those very artists’ work, with the benefits flowing to everyone but the artists themselves?”

The answer, of course, is that this should not be permitted. But since innovation moves much faster than legislatures and courts, tech companies have been operating on a turbo-charged premise of seeking forgiveness instead of permission for years. (They call it “disruption,” Klein notes.) Operations like Google’s book-scanning project, Uber’s undermining the taxi industry, and Facebook’s mishandling of user data, just to name a few, got so far so fast regulators simply gave in. Now the same thing appears to be happening with generative AI and the data it feeds upon. But there is hope. A group of top experts on AI ethics specify measures regulators can take. Will they?

Cynthia Murrell, May 24, 2023


One Response to “AI Builders and the Illusions they Promote”

  1. Wanna Be an AI Entrepreneur? Part 2 : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search on August 17th, 2023 5:05 am

    […] have four basic cautions. First, keep humans on board. AI can often offer up false information, problematically known as “hallucinations.” Living, breathing workers are required to catch and correct […]

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