AI Intel: Is AI Magic? Spoiler: No
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
That’s futurist and sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke’s third law. He’s not saying that advanced tech is akin to magic. He’s saying that unless we understand what’s actually happening, it’s easy to let our imaginations run away with us. At least that’s how I interpret it.
Flipping the idea around, with consistent exposure to a “sufficiently advanced technology,” and as newer tech builds on the previous advances, what looked like magic before we get used to it and it just looks normal.
We’re in the very early stages of accepting and adapting AI in the same way we’ve accepted and adapted every other technological advance from the wheel to the internet.
If we follow tech news, we’re seeing AI advances and new milestones coming at an incredible pace. AI scraping a pass on the bar exam and medical license exam is impressive enough. But getting to the top of the class short months later is incredible. Moore’s Law — effectively that raw computing power doubles every two years — has nothing on the pace of change in AI.
We’re starting to see how powerful AI can be as a tool.
Our LinkedIn feeds are full of people sharing their AI thoughts, their ChatGPT experiments, their prognostications and yes, their fears, misgivings, and misconceptions.
When we’re bombarded with casual predictions that AI will replace this job, make this career redundant, displace this industry entirely, fear is a natural reaction. It’s important to remember that every great advance has been met with doomsayers and radical optimists. Both of which I think are misguided.
AI is new(ish) technology. It’s not bad, it’s not good. It just is.
We need to get educated on artificial intelligence (AI) so it doesn’t look like magic. Because it isn’t. It’s an evolution and has major implications but it will always be human initiative that puts AI to work to solve the right problems.
Will AI Change Everything?
The internet is more than a series of tubes, and AI is less than a computer brain.
Will AI change things? It already is changing things. Should there be a framework of regulation around AI development? In the same way we have rules and regulations around food safety, road safety, online privacy and countless other examples, yes. However, talking about AI as if it’s magic — whether light or dark — should disqualify a person from contributing to those frameworks.
AI looks like magic because we don’t have a great frame of reference to understand it. And magic is scary. Especially when we’re hearing from people that this magic could develop sentience and start really thinking for itself. In few sci-fi plotlines is this ever a good thing.
What’s needed is a clearer picture of what’s going on behind the curtain. To most in the field of developing AI and building AI tools, AI just looks like increasingly well designed mathematical equations running on ever more powerful computers and with more and more data to draw on.
AI is Neutral
That’s not to discount the importance of responsible development and deployment of AI, or AI safety in general.
While humans put rules around tools like ChatGPT so they won’t immediately help bad actors, AI itself is just a product of the data on which it’s trained. Whether an individual uses it for good or ill comes down to the individual’s intent.
Can bad actors use AI? It’s not a question of whether they can. They are. But bad actors use every new technological advancement. Think of a technology. Any technology. There’s not a single one that hasn’t been put to nefarious use.
The internet itself is a good example. It’s effectively agnostic. Whether we choose to use it for good or evil is up to us. There’s bad stuff online. We have developed rules and systems to combat this bad stuff. But importantly, we’ve done so without stifling innovation.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The unexplainable freaks people out.
The solution isn’t to try to stop developing or advancing technologies. It’s to stop treating new technologies as if they’re magic.
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