How AI can improve the world more than electricity or the internet

Countries and companies are racing to produce artificial intelligence that tech entrepreneurs believe will revolutionize society.

The rise of artificial intelligence—now seemingly inevitable in Silicon Valley—will bring change “orders of magnitude” greater than anything the world has yet seen, observers say. But are we ready?

AGI—defined as artificial intelligence with human cognitive abilities, as opposed to less artificial intelligence, like ChatGPT’s title holder—can free people from menial jobs and usher in a new era of innovation.

But such a historic paradigm shift could also jeopardize jobs and raise intractable social problems, experts warn.

Previous technological advances from electricity to the Internet have caused a radical change in society, says Siqi Chen, CEO of San Francisco startup Runway.

“But what we’re looking at now is the intelligence itself… It’s the first time we’ve been able to create our own intelligence and expand its value across the universe,” he told AFP.

The change, as a result, will be “orders of magnitude greater than any technological change we’ve had in history.”

And such exciting, frightening shifts are “a double-edged sword,” Chen said, considering using AGI to address climate change, for example, but also cautioning that it’s a tool we want to be “as robust as possible.”

It was the release of ChatGPT late last year that brought the long-dreamed vision of AGI one giant leap closer to reality.

OpenAI, a company that supports generative software that generates articles, poems and computer code on command, this week released an even more powerful version of its active technology—GPT-4.

It says the technology will be able to process not only text but also images, and generate complex content such as legal complaints or video games.

It therefore “reflects population-level performance” in other benchmarks, the company said.

Goodbye to ‘drudgery’

The success of OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, has sparked an arms race in Silicon Valley as tech giants seek to push their AI productivity tools to the next level—while still wary of chatbots going off the rails.

Already, AI-infused digital assistants from Microsoft and Google can summarize meetings, write emails, create websites, creative ad campaigns and more—giving us a glimpse of what AGI will be able to do in the future.

“We spend a lot of time using boredom,” said Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president.

With artificial intelligence Spataro wants to “rediscover the soul of work,” he said during his Microsoft launch on Thursday.

Artificial intelligence can also reduce costs, some suggest.

British architect Joe Perkins tweeted that he used GPT-4 to do a coding project, which a “very good” developer told him would cost 5,000 pounds ($6,000) and take two weeks.

“GPT-4 delivered the same in 3 hours, at $0.11,” he tweeted. “It really boggles the mind.”

But that raises the question of the threat to people’s jobs, with entrepreneur Chen admitting that technology could one day create a startup like his—or an even better version.

“How will I make a living if I am homeless?” he asked, adding that he is still hoping for solutions to emerge.

Existing questions

The ubiquity of artificial intelligence also puts a question mark over the authenticity of creativity as songs, photos, art and more are produced by software instead of humans.

Will people shun education, instead relying on software to think for them?

And, who should be trusted to make AI unbiased, accurate, and adaptable to different countries and cultures?

AGI is “probably coming at us faster than we can process,” said Sharon Zhou, founder of an AI manufacturing company.

Technology raises a question that exists in humanity, he told AFP.

“If there is going to be something stronger than us and smarter than us, what does that mean for us?” Zhou asked.

“And do we bind it? Or does it bind us?”

OpenAI says it plans to gradually build AGI for the benefit of all humanity, but has admitted that the software has security flaws.

Security is “a process,” said OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever in an interview with MIT Technology Review, adding that it would be “highly desirable” for companies to “come up with some kind of process that allows the slow release of models with these unprecedented capabilities.”

But for now, says Zhou, slowing down is not part of the ethos.

“The power is concentrated in those who can build these things. And they make decisions about this, and they tend to move quickly,” he said.

The international order itself may be at risk, he suggests.

“The pressure between the US and China has been great,” Zhou said, adding that the artificial intelligence race evokes the Cold War era.

“Surely there is a risk with AGI that if one country gets it quickly, they will dominate?” he asks.

“And so I think it’s fear, don’t stop because we can’t lose.”

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