Few new technologies are creating as much hype as artificial intelligence. Ever since the release of ChatGPT, AI – and especially generative AI – have been front and center in conversations around the future of technology, job security, intellectual property, and more. But few people understand exactly what AI can do and what its benefits – and risks – are. To tackle these questions, senior Vox reporter Sigal Samuel sat down with Vivian Schiller, executive director of Aspen Digital. Their conversation reveals key insights into what AI will mean for our society.
What exactly is AI?
AI as it exists today isn’t close to bringing us sentient robots – in fact, it’s not even a particularly new technology.
“Artificial intelligence is a ridiculously broad term and it refers to a set of technologies that have been around for many, many decades,” Schiller says.
The reason AI is in the zeitgeist is because of the sudden availability of generative AI, which uses data scraped from the internet to create images or text. Even this technology has been around for a while, though – it just hadn’t been publicly available before.
To provide more clarifying information on what AI is, and what it can and can’t do, Schiller and her team created free, downloadable primers on the technology.
How might AI impact the labor market?
When Samuel asked whether AI could lead to increased unemployment, Schiller replied, “Certainly there will be an impact on jobs, [but] not all bad. There will be new categories of jobs created.”
Regarding generative AI’s impact on people who create content for a living, such as writers or artists, “There is a lot of risk there because it is so much easier to create content. But – particularly when it comes to words – it’s easy to create content that sounds right but is full of … made-up stuff.” For original and accurate work, humans will likely still be needed.
What can we do to maintain trust in the media?
One of the biggest dangers of generative AI is how easy it is to produce falsified images that look real. To prevent the spread of misinformation, “It will be the role of the news media to very quickly get on those images and fact check them.”
However, Schiller continued:
“Once people get used to the fact that there’s so much fake stuff out there, the bigger risk is not that they will believe all the nonsense. It’s that they will stop believing anything they see, including legitimate photographs … When distrust of all content becomes so pervasive that people just give up, this is a tool for autocrats … discrediting the news media.”
To combat this, Schiller said, “We need to build up the resiliency” in the nation’s media landscape “so people can learn which sources they can trust.”
What impacts of AI should we be concerned about?
Many have spoken of sweeping societal changes caused by artificial general intelligence (AGI), a form of AI that could mimic human logic. Schiller, however, said, “I’m not ready to worry about that yet.”
Worrying about these far-future technological developments, Schiller said, “jumps right over all the other problems that are with us now” like “the pollution of the information ecosystem, bias and discrimination at scale … what is going to happen with jobs, do we have training … these are all huge problems and in the next three to five years.”
Discussing AGI and its hypothetical impacts cannot be productive until the problems raised by today’s technologies are addressed.
What approach should regulators take?
On the topic of regulations to slow down the development of AI, Schiller agreed that they’re necessary, but added that “When you look at stopping something that’s right in front of you, it’s easy to ignore downstream effects. So I think we have to be very careful about the kinds of regulation on AI.”
She also commented that we can apply regulations that already exist to AI. “We don’t necessarily need new laws to protect our environment from abusive bias and discrimination and other harms of AI,” she said.
Regulators and lawmakers should take action thoughtfully and only after obtaining a thorough understanding of what AI is so they can not just mitigate its risks, but also promote its benefits.
Despite the concerns surrounding AI, it can be a useful tool for everything from drug discovery, to finding climate crisis solutions, to developing personalized learning plans for students. Lawmakers need to not shy away from it, but encourage it in the right direction.
Watch the full conversation here.
Access free primers on AI technology, developed by Aspen Digital.