“What Will Happen to All the Horses?” – Surviving the Coming AI Revolution

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Optimism, Concern, and Paranoia

Beginning in late 2022, the public availability of advanced Large Language Models (LLMs) and their chat-based applications (OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Meta’s LLaMa, Anthropic’s Claude), served as the spark that set off a powder keg of hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies that had been building up for a long time. Reactions have ranged from unbounded optimism about productivity capabilities to paranoia around machines surpassing human intelligence, leading to the outright destruction of the human race after a quick detour through a horrifying dystopian nightmare.

In reality, what is likely needed is an even-handed approach to adapt to the dizzying pace of innovation associated with AI, embracing the massive opportunity that it brings while readying society and the labor force for the coming changes. This is not the first time that a set of technologies has come along and disrupted many sectors at once. Although things are likely to move much more quickly this time, we can look to history for some examples of how (and how not) to prepare.

Historical Echoes on a New Digital Frontier

The question, “What will happen to all the horses?” alludes to the early 20th-century quandary when the internal combustion engine was new and the burgeoning automobile industry was rendering horse-driven transport methods obsolete. The fear then was palpable. Workers worried about job losses, society was anxious about safety, and governments struggled with the question of how to regulate automobiles and their effects on everything from city planning to streetcar manufacturing. The current AI wave feels eerily similar in some aspects of the scope and scale of anticipated disruption.

AI technologies, especially generative AI, are creating a plethora of opportunities. There is justification for substantial optimism if only because of the sheer scope of problems that AI can address. As Andrew Ng, cofounder and one-time head of Google Brain, famously said in 2017, “AI is the new electricity. Just as 100 years ago electricity transformed industry after industry, AI will now do the same.”

We would be wise to find ways to embrace as much of that opportunity as we can while maintaining agility in our ability to do so responsibly.

This is no easy feat, and with every stride forward that AI takes, concerns deepen in some circles about its implications.

Societal, Economic and Ethical Concerns

While LLMs and associated applications are capable of drafting emails or assisting with customer support, what becomes of the assistants and support staff?

Just as carriage drivers did with the advent of the automobile, traditional jobs will fade in the face of automation. However, history has shown that technology also creates new jobs, even if it means that the workforce must adapt and adjust. This workforce disruption will not be all negative. Immediate positive changes will also be felt in the day-to-day lives of many office workers, for example, who can refocus the effort they are currently expending on procedural tasks to focus on activities with a higher value add.

The influence AI will have on our daily lives, decision-making processes, and cultural values will also be profound. As these models become more integrated into our lives, they will shape our perceptions, sometimes without us even realizing it’s happening. In fact, it’s already happening as illustrated by the wildfire-like way that misinformation spreads via social media and other internet-powered routes. Suggestion engines that have the sole purpose of promoting content that gets more clicks are nothing new. With generative AI, the quantity and reach of that content and its ability to convince and persuade people could grow exponentially. This is but one immediate example of why a healthy amount of concern around the use of these technologies and urgency in finding ways to ensure that they are used responsibly are also justified.

Top AI ML News: The Human Brain is the Best Example of a Supercomputer

Navigating the Future

For organizations and individuals, navigating the AI revolution means understanding its nuances, embracing its advantages, and being vigilant about its risks.

  1. Education: Equip the current and upcoming workforce with AI literacy, which simply means a basic understanding of what these technologies can and cannot do, and a surface understanding of how they do it. This will be as crucial as basic digital literacy has been since the turn of this century.
  2. Ethical AI: Organizations must adopt principles and policies that ensure their AI systems are transparent, explainable, and, to the extent possible, devoid of harmful biases. Helpful tools, such as the AI model documentation method known as model cards, already exist and can provide a start on the transparency and accountability that will be essential to the responsible use of AI.
  3. Regulation and Oversight: Governments and other regulatory bodies will play a pivotal role in shaping the ethical trajectory of AI development. Thoughtful regulation should ensure that societal interests are protected while also allowing innovation to thrive.
  4. Human-AI Collaboration: Rather than viewing AI as a competitor, we should focus on collaborative models of working with these technologies. AI can handle data-driven tasks while humans bring creativity, emotional intelligence, and context.

For years, science fiction has painted images of dystopian futures where AI surpasses human intelligence, leading to unfavorable outcomes. These narratives tap into a very real human fear: loss of control. But the coming AI revolution is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge. Here in the real world, AI should be approached as a tool, not a replacement.

The future may seem daunting from our current vantage point, but it is worth remembering that every significant technological shift has been met with similar trepidation.

Proper guidelines, sensible oversight, and enlightened ethical frameworks surrounding AI’s use can ensure that AI serves humanity rather than subjugating it. After all, none of us wants to be the one still asking 30 years from now, “What will happen to all the horses?” as we get hit by a bus.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]


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