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Artificial Intelligence, Part 1: It's already everywhere, isn't it?

Uber Eats customers in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, VA can have food delivered by one of Cartken's autonomous bots. COURTESY: Cartken
Uber Eats customers in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, VA can have food delivered by one of Cartken's autonomous bots. COURTESY: Cartken
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Not unlike a science-fiction novel, there’s seemingly no limit to what artificial intelligence technology can do.

It can detect early signs of certain types of cancer before doctors can find it on a CT scan. It can outperform most law school graduates on the bar exam.

It can buy and trade stocks. It can write and produce a song using an artist’s vocals, even if the artist never sang a note. It even could have written this article (it did not).

It can also impersonate your grandmother over a phone call and ask for money. It can be used by a criminal to start a massive troll farm (groups of fake online agitators who inflame debates) with just a few presses of a button.

It can (and has) written fake news stories accusing public officials of crimes they never committed. It could be hacked and intentionally crash a driverless vehicle; it can harvest large personal datasets in seconds; it could hack robotic military weapons.

Basically, it can do almost everything humans can do and more, but one thing is missing: it has no consciousness, awareness or idea of itself, meaning it can’t feel emotions like joy, sadness or remorse.

What could possibly go wrong?

We’ve caught a glimpse into what can go wrong. We’ve heard warnings from scientists, advocates, teachers, defense officials, world leaders and even AI researchers and developers themselves about the dangers AI poses.

Some experts are calling this the next Industrial Revolution, except instead of substituting human labor with machine labor, we’re substituting human creativity with machine creativity. And humans created the machines to do it.

With such a fascinating phenomenon ramping up significantly, many are calling on the government to step in and try to get ahead of the many harms it could cause and the discord it could sow.

But some legal experts caution against trying to get ahead of something so unpredictable. The truth is, we humans likely have no idea what damage this type of powerful technology can cause.

For starters, any average Joe can use ChatGPT, which was developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022. It’s a large language model that can process, manipulate and generate text. Developers trained it to do this by feeding it massive amounts of data from the internet, books, articles and other content to identify patterns and spit human-like text back to users.

Think of it like typing a question into Google, but instead of getting a list of websites answering your question, ChatGPT just gives you the answer it thinks you want. (Note: that answer isn’t always the correct one).

While ChatGPT is probably the most popular (with over 100 million users according to the latest data), plenty of technology companies have released their versions to the public, like Microsoft’s Bing Chat or Google’s Bard and Socratic. Elon Musk has his own AI model in the works – TruthGPT. There are AI chatbots for businesses, schoolkids, content creators and everyday people looking up the answer to a question or trying to solve an equation.

And chatbots are just the tip of the iceberg. According to a survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management, 42% of companies with 5,000 employees or more use AI tools. Another survey by job advice platform found that American companies use AI for a variety of things: 66% for writing code; 58% for creating prose and content; 57% for customer service; and 52% for meeting summaries and other papers.

It’s used to personalize your shopping experience online, including those chatbots that pop up asking if you need assistance when you open a new website. It’s grading homework in schools and managing enrollment in courses. It’s in autonomous vehicles, spam filters, facial recognition, recommendation systems, disease detection, agriculture, social media, fraud detection, traffic management, navigation and ride-sharing.

If an inanimate object is asking you a question or recommending something for you, that’s AI. Yes, that includes when you spell a word wrong in a text and your iPhone auto-corrects the word for you.

In short, AI is all around us in places we don’t even realize, doing things for us we may not even realize we want to be done.

Many new AI projects are in the pipeline. Cartken, an AI-powered robotics company, partnered with Uber Eats to launch a pilot program where robots deliver food orders to people. Next May, people will be able to order a new smart device called “Companion” – a robotic device that can babysit, train, play with and monitor the health of your dog while you’re out and about. Robots are sorting trash and retrieving recyclables from garbage streams.

It’s not just digital work AI can accomplish within seconds anymore – it’s physical labor, too.

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“[AI] is going to start actually competing with humans for things that humans have historically been good at, and machines have not been,” said Anthony Aguirre, a professor at UC Santa Cruz and the executive director of the Future of Life Institute. “Something has really changed just in the capabilities of the systems, and that changing capability has not been accompanied by a change in our society’s readiness to absorb these technologies and to deal with them and to ensure they’re safe.”

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