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Taming AI to the benefit of humans

By Wu Guangqiang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-05-15 10:00


For decades, artificial intelligence (AI) has captivated humanity as an enigmatic and elusive entity, often depicted in sci-fi films. Will it emerge as a benevolent angel, devotedly serving mankind, or a malevolent demon, poised to seize control and annihilate humanity?

Previous sci-fi movies featuring AI often portray evil-minded enemies set on destroying humanity, such as The Terminator, The Matrix and Blade Runner. Experts, including late British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, have expressed concern about the potential risks of AI, with Hawking warning that it could lead to the end of the human race. These tech gurus understand the limitations of human intelligence when compared to rapidly evolving technologies like supercomputers, Big Data and cloud computing, and fear that AI will soon become too powerful to control.

In March 2016, AlphaGo, a computer program developed by Google DeepMind, decisively beat Lee Sedol, a 9-dan Korean professional Go player, with a score of 4-1. In May 2017, AlphaGo crushed Kejie 3-0, China's then-top Go player. This historic event marked the first time a machine had defeated a human at Go, widely considered one of the most complex and challenging games in the world. The victory shattered skepticism about AI's capabilities and instilled a sense of awe and fear in many. This sentiment was further reinforced when "Master," the updated version of AlphaGo, achieved an unprecedented 60-game winning streak, beating dozens of top-notch players from China, South Korea and Japan, driving human players to despair.

These victories sparked widespread interest and debate about the potential of AI and its impact on society. Some saw it as a triumph of human ingenuity and technological progress, while others expressed concern about the implications for employment, privacy and ethics. Overall, AlphaGo’s dominance in Go signaled a turning point in the history of AI and became a reminder of the power and potential of this rapidly evolving field.

If AlphaGo was an AI prodigy that impressed humans with its exceptional abilities, then Chat GPT, which made its debut earlier this year, along with its more powerful successor GPT, has left humans both awestruck with admiration and fearful of its potential negative impact.

GPT, or Generative Pre-trained Transformer, a language model AI, has the ability to generate human-like responses to text prompts, making it seem like you are having a conversation with a human. GPT-3, the latest version of the model, has 175 billion parameters, making it the largest language model AI to date. Some have claimed that it has passed the Turing test.

Indisputably, AI has the potential to revolutionize many industries, from healthcare and education to finance and manufacturing to transportation, by providing more accurate diagnoses, reducing accidents and analyzing large amounts of data. It is anticipated that AI’s rapid development will bring immeasurable benefits to humans.

Yet, history has shown us that major technological advancements can be a double-edged sword, capable of bringing both benefits and drawbacks. For instance, the discovery of nuclear energy has led to the creation of nuclear weapons, which have caused immense destruction and loss of life. Similarly, the widespread use of social media has revolutionized communication, but it has also led to the spread of misinformation and cyberbullying.

Despite their impressive performance, the latest versions of GPT and its Chinese counterparts, such as Baidu's Wenxin Yiyan, are not entirely reliable or trustworthy due to fatal bugs. Despite my attempts to request specific metrical poems by famous ancient Chinese poets, these seemingly omniscient chatbots would display fake works they had cobbled together from their database instead of authentic ones. Even when I corrected them, they would continue to provide incorrect answers without acknowledging their ignorance. Until this bug is resolved, these chatbots cannot be considered a reliable tool.

Furthermore, AI has advanced in image and sound generation through deep learning and neural networks, including the use of GANs for realistic images and videos and text-to-speech algorithms for human-like speech. However, without strict monitoring, these advancements could be abused for criminal purposes, such as deepfake technology for creating convincing videos of people saying or doing things they never did, leading to the spread of false information or defamation.

It has been discovered that AI is being used for criminal purposes. On April 25th, the internet security police in Pingliang City, Gansu Province, uncovered an article claiming that nine people had died in a train collision that morning. Further investigation revealed that the news was entirely false. The perpetrator, a man named Hong, had utilized ChatGPT and other AI products to generate a large volume of fake news and profit illegally. Hong's use of AI tools allowed him to quickly search for and edit previous popular news stories, making them appear authentic and facilitating the spread of false information. In this case, AI played a significant role in the commission of the crime.

Due to the potential risks that AI poses to human society, many institutions worldwide have imposed bans or restrictions on GPT usage, citing security risks and plagiarism concerns. Some countries have also requested that GPT meet specific requirements, such as the European Union's proposed regulations that mandate AI systems to be transparent, explainable and subject to human oversight.

China has always prioritized ensuring the safety, reliability and controllability of AI to better empower global sustainable development. In its January 2023 Position Paper on Strengthening Ethical Governance of Artificial Intelligence, China actively advocates for the concepts of "people-oriented" and "AI for good".

In conclusion, while AI is undoubtedly critical to technological and social advancement, it must be tamed to serve humankind as a law-abiding and people-oriented assistant, rather than a deceitful and rebellious troublemaker. Ethics must take precedence, and legislation should establish regulations and accountability mechanisms for AI. An international consensus and concerted action are necessary to prevent AI from endangering human society.

The author is a Shenzhen-based English tutor.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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