By Ouchrif Yasmine
One thing we can all agree on is that the internet has had an immeasurable effect on the way we produce, share and process information. Whether it be science, philosophy or any mundane activity. Questions to which the answers used to be stored in our memories or could only be found through thorough research are now only a few clicks away. And while there is a case to be made about the added value of time efficiency and the accessibility of information in modern times, the downsides are not to be dismissed. And concerns about what our role is to become in a tech-lead era should be taken into account and explored.
Now, we are all but too familiar with the usual complaints about how the concentration of our internet use in social media platforms has caused a shrinkage of our attention spans and in our ability to think critically and rationally. All of this is caused mainly by hyper-targeted content, inflammatory clickbait, information overload (including misinformation, which is a big topic in its own right), and algorithms designed to keep us hooked. Then came the use of AI in moderating content, providing data analysis to companies and independent creators, helping them steer the wheel of content creation in the “optimal” direction, now providing even content creation. What this entails is not a better, less misinformation-riddled, relevancy and quality focused internet, but an exacerbation of the current business model of the web that is based on advertising revenue and depends on the easy, cost-efficient capture of people’s attention.
This is not the only issue that AI is exacerbating. The now famous ChatGPT is also infamous for the way students use it to cheat on their assignments. This is not only making essays an obsolete form of examination in school and university but it is also taking the jobs of all the nerds kids used to have to pay to write for them and it is giving them to AI. This is criminal! Not to say that ChatGPT is an evil tool, and no one should ever use it again. It’s fine. It’s quite useful actually. But that’s all it is, a tool. Just like we can’t stick a nail in the wall with our fist, and a hammer would surely help, AI is useful in delegating tasks that would take a lot of time and effort to complete, or ones for which the skills we do not need to succeed. But who is to decide what skills a human needs and which they can do without?
All the talk among AI tech bros about “AI alignment” is irrelevant as clearly, AI doesn’t need to have our worst interest at “heart”, or a loopy command gone wrong to harm us. We do that ourselves already. Keeping in mind that all this technology is man-made, the question of alignment falls, in the end, in our own hands.
“If Deep Blue’s victory over Kasparov signaled the transfer of chess power from humans to computers, the victory of centaurs over Hydra symbolized something more interesting still: humans empowered to do what they do best without the prerequisite of years of specialized pattern recognition.” This is an excerpt from David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in A Specialized World. It is the culmination of two stories that take place in the playground that we humans have made for ourselves, where we create something far more capable than the average person at a certain task, and then figure out the balancing act where the tool is of use to us but does not supersede us. It is true creativity in the face of human limitation and insurmountable incompetence.
In the end, this is an issue of mindset. In an era where technology advances at ever-increasing rates, all we can do, while our environment is struggling to catch up, is to be intentional and proactive in our relationship with it. Whether it be through organization or task delegation, all the way to our physical and mental health and our cultural interests. Far from corporate interest and our resentment of it, the aim should be to embrace human-centered technologies. There are well-meaning developers and businesses all over creating tools made to be adapted to our different lifestyles and that serve individuals and communities alike. So, with equal amounts of wisdom and humility, let us go down the paths less traveled of our new “cyborg-ness”, integrating and discarding parts accordingly.