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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 19 June 2024

Pandora’s box

The conundrum caused by social media can be attributed to society being blind to its own artifice and perfidy. Given this background, should one be encouraged by the endorsements of AI?

Samir Nazareth Published 14.09.23, 05:19 AM
One reason why hum­ans are different from other species is because their laws on social interaction are constantly evolving.

One reason why hum­ans are different from other species is because their laws on social interaction are constantly evolving. Sourced by the Telegraph

Artificial Intelligence’s infiltration into our daily lives has got everyone talking. Sadhguru and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have spoken about AI, as has Pope Francis. Sadhguru looks forward to AI doing menial tasks; Sri Sri says that the human touch will remain relevant; the pope has called for the ethical use of AI. Interestingly, ChatGPT’s creator, Sam Altman, feels AI must be regulated.

So whose view holds greater weight?

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When social media entered our lives, it was viewed as a platform to bolster collective bonhomie. At least, that’s what the developers claimed it would do. But no one was prepared for the depraved ingenuity that social media inspired. It has become a socio-political weapon, pitting citizen against citizen. Fake news, pseudo-science, all forms of chauvinism are generated, viewed, liked and shared incessantly. What was conceived as, and could have been, a force for good has been transformed into an arsenal against rationality, empathy and scientific thought.

The repercussions of this online medium have overwhelmed the real world. Elections have been lost; nations have come close to civil war; people have been triggered to commit atrocities. In trying to protect society against the deleterious effects of social media, governments, ironically, handed themselves legal tools that could be used against critics and opponents. Debates continue on whether such laws curb free speech.

The conundrum caused by social media can be attributed to society being blind to its own artifice and perfidy. Given this background, should one be encouraged by the endorsements of AI?

AI would make redundant many a profession. In fact, companies like IBM have put on hold hiring to understand the impact of AI on their business. On the flip side, AI will create new occupations, but these will be software heavy.

However, the issue is not just about AI’s impact on the workforce.

Social media amplified our vileness; AI may hone our baser qualities further. This technology will make it harder for society to differentiate between truth and falsity. Consequently, it will erode trust that is the glue that holds society together. Social media’s prowess of dissemination coupled with AI’s ability to generate falsities would be a potent potion for societal breakdown.

You may call me a fearmongering luddite. But I am wrestling with two questions: has the use of social media made society a safer, trusting place? Would society be better off without social media?

One may argue that social media is a vehicle that furthers free speech and the dissemination of knowledge. Proponents of AI claim that it is another step in mankind’s progress and that the human race will learn how to incorporate AI into daily life, just like it has done with other technologies in the past. The issue, though, is not just about technology: it is about the idea of progress. Advancement in science and technology has certainly made life easier and has saved lives. On the other hand, progress in science and technology has also adversely affected the environment and, as a result, public health. Science and technology are harbingers of a vicious cycle. Their use creates problems that can only be remedied by the use of science and technology. The more we progress scientifically and technologically, the finer is the balance and greater is the need for safeguarding.

One reason why hum­ans are different from other species is because their laws on social interaction are constantly evolving. Un­fortunately, when it comes to laws on the use of technology, they are promulgated seemingly only after society has been harmed by technology.

The threat from AI does not only come from its strengths but also from human frailty and fallibility. AI is the proverbial Pandora’s box that is best left unopened.

Samir Nazareth is the author of 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns and 1 Million People

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