The Short Term Impact of AI is Very real

I recently ran into a TCS colleague at a forum in which I presented. Ryan Metz is a Data Scientist working at our Cornell Innovation Lab. Ryan mentioned an Article he had written about the short term impact of AI – versus the long term concerns voiced by the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. As he states in the article, the long term concern is that we will produce machines so intelligent that we lose control over them. They will become a new form of life that rules over us as we do the  the animal kingdom.

In the article, Ryan uses story telling to articulate the short term impacts of artificial intelligence – a very effective way to raise awareness. The key message: The technology that already exists, or is about to exist, is dangerous enough on its own. Ryan focuses on two artificial neural networks (algorithms modeled after a rough approximation of how groups of neurons in your brain operate): Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) and Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs).  A quick example of each from the article:

Generative Adversarial Networks: A GAN is made up of two neural networks that have each been trained on what a certain thing looks like, like a an animal or a person. When the training is complete, one network is told to start generating new images of the thing on its own. The other network is presented with a stream of these fake images with real images interspersed and tries to guess which are fakes. Human input tells each network its successes and failures. Each then adjusts itself to try to do better and they push each other to greater and greater heights of success. I described the possible impacts of this scenario in my post on DeepFakes.

Recurrent Neural Networks: RNNs work with data that exists as an ordered sequence, such as a record of daily high temperatures in a city, or the words in a paragraph. Processing and generating written and spoken communication are two of the tasks RNNs are most commonly used for.

With this as a backdrop, let’s look at various scenarios and impacts as described by the article:

Artificial people: The availability of fake images and videos enables magazines and advertisers to replace real people with generated pictures, saving money on photo shoots and models. Stock photos will no longer be of people pretending to be someone else – they will be computers pretending to be people. Why would anyone hire real people, when artificially-generated replicas are just as realistic, far more flexible, and don’t ask to get paid?

Distorting reality: fake security camera footage, fake police body camera footage, fake confessions, and fake intelligence. AI-generated images and videos are not just going to cast doubt on reporting, but will pose a major challenge for the legal system. Photographic evidence in trials will always be in doubt once generated images can’t be distinguished from real ones by human experts or other AIs. They can also be used as alibis, with claims that the real images are the fake ones.

Shifting interaction paradigm: Google recently unveiled a new AI assistant that can talk and interact like a person. When Duplex called a hair salon to make an appointment,  the woman on the line had no idea she wasn’t talking to a person. Google says it is building Duplex “to sound natural, to make the conversation experience comfortable.” I have written extensively about the Transformation of Interaction.

Automated journalism: simple online news articles, like reporting on a regular season baseball game, can be produced without human input. The first RNN-generated stories were published in 2015 to industry fanfare, and they are already being deployed by the Associated Press and the Washington Post. We can expect this phenomenon to expand further, allowing publishers to pay even less for content.

Shaping the narrative: vast networks of social media accounts run by RNNs will be able to shape narratives and manipulate perceptions. Ryan says that it is already pretty easy to trick someone into thinking they’re talking to a fellow human when they’re not. The story telling to support this scenario was so compelling, I will repeat it here:

There are some fun examples of this. Nora Reed created a Christian Twitter bot account that successfully trolled New Atheists, got into arguments with them, and had Christians come to its defense. Here’s an excerpt from a genuine chat between “@christianmom18” and some real live human atheists:

@christianmom18 atheists are going to hell

@ElNuevoOtraMio2 why thank you, don’t believe in it though so i’ll just have to get on with life 😉

@christianmom18 wow

@RichysGames not only is hell not real, but the logic behind the threat of it makes Jesus a terrorist

@christianmom18 check the bible

@RichysGames Yes I know it quite well which is why I know it’s nonsense and the scenario proposed is not one of a savior

@christianmom18 and then what?

@RichysGames Nothing, I live my life and then my atoms continue on through nature after I die […]

@christianmom18 i think God sent you to me to learn the truth

@RichysGames Truth is based upon evidence, not ignorance from bronze age sheep horders

@christianmom18 i am so sad for you

@RichysGames I am living my life, you’re wasting yours because ignorant bronze age idiots wrote a fairytale

@christianmom18 you can find god

@RichysGames Which one? humans have proposed over 3000

@christianmom18 no

Richy continued to talk to her for three hours.

Killing machines: Small, inexpensive drones will follow people around and kill them at the first opportunity. Autonomous Weapons - DronesThe Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is pushing for international agreements to limit the development of autonomous military drones, but this technology is different from anything that came before in that a lot of it is accessible to anyone. I previously wrote about the intersection of AI and Drones.

High Tech Spying: High-quality cameras and shotgun microphones mounted on drones will be used to spy on politicians, generals, CEOs, and activists

Some day, the concerns voiced by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking may become a reality. But, as articulated through these stories of a very real immediate future, our focus and awareness should line its sights on this immediate future.

2 thoughts on “The Short Term Impact of AI is Very real

  1. I can see a need for distributed ledger technologies to be used to identify owners and authenticate news and visual images. Many dedicated people are working at creating a new trust layer for the internet to help solve these specific kinds of challenges.


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