Opinion: Fears about AI are overblown. ChatGPT is a net gain for society

In its current form, ChatGPT is more akin to a souped-up search engine than anything else, the author writes. — Patrick Daxenbichler/Dreamstime/TNS

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of our society, but it also has the potential to be harmful. As AI becomes more advanced and widespread, it raises ethical concerns about how it will impact jobs, privacy and inequality.

Overall, it is important to carefully consider the potential drawbacks of AI and take steps to mitigate them.

Would it surprise you if I said that the above paragraph was written entirely by AI? It’s true – using the newish AI called ChatGPT, I typed in the following query: “Write me an opening paragraph about the dangers of artificial intelligence.”

ChatGPT was developed by OpenAI, a startup founded in part by Big Tech mogul Elon Musk. In appearance, the software resembles a typical search engine. But in function, it is designed to act like a chat box dialogue, meant to evoke a conversational feeling between user and program. Within a week after launching, it had already racked up more than a million users.

It’s no wonder why. The various uses of this sort of advanced AI range from the practical to the whimsical. ChatGPT can answer basic questions, of course, such as, “What is the capital of Zimbabwe?” When prompted, it will list the various causes of the Great Depression or provide a cogent summary for why James Buchanan was a bad president.

The most intriguing aspect of the AI lies in its creative capacities. It is able to conjure up a poem about the movie “Legally Blonde,” construct an imaginary dialogue between Abraham Lincoln and George Washington or draft a short speech about why “Mr. Tambourine Man” is the best Bob Dylan song. The possibilities are virtually endless.

But from a practical perspective, ChatGPT is capable of much more. It can draft sophisticated legal contracts and business agreements. It can write programming language using complex code, which was once the exclusive province of computer geeks and Silicon Valley techies.

And, yes, it can even produce opinion articles – although this one, for better or worse, was written by the author.

Still, the improvement of AI is not an unmitigated good. There is an entire subgenre of science fiction foretelling catastrophic consequences should AI ever come into competition with humanity – think the evil Skynet from “The Terminator” film franchise or the entire plot of “I, Robot.”

Setting aside doomsday scenarios, the more immediate threat is not killer robots but job-killing robots. The main worry will be for those occupying low-skilled jobs. At particular risk are those who earn a living by answering phones, working at a counter or otherwise providing customer service. These are the positions most susceptible to being taken away by AI.

The truth, though, is that this evolution has been coming for a long time. Self-checkouts at stores and self-ordering kiosks at restaurants have been growing in popularity for years. If anything, AI will merely speed up a trend that is, in all likelihood, unstoppable.

Another concern is the possibility that kids in school will use AI to circumvent reading and writing assignments. When prompted, ChatGPT can, for example, write a passable essay on the theme of race in the oft-assigned novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Back when I was in middle school, I had to make do with a combination of SparkNotes and renting the movie featuring Gregory Peck from Blockbuster. The reality is that clever students will find shortcuts with or without artificial intelligence.

Ultimately, fears about AI are overblown. In its current form, ChatGPT is more akin to a souped-up search engine than anything else. Indeed, for most purposes, it is simply a more expedient way to search the web. It quickly synthesizes information that might otherwise have required hours of tediously sifting through Google links.

Further, the program is not infallible. As others have pointed out, it is sometimes incorrect as to matters of fact. As is often the case with AI, it’s unable to account for every nuance of the English language. Given a few tries, those who are intent on stumping the program will be able to achieve their goal.

AI will make life more efficient going forward, much in the same way that search engines have made life easier for the past two decades. As a bonus, it can even help with the age-old problem of writer’s block. In the event that an op-ed writer is unable to come up with a satisfactory conclusion, help is at hand – just ask ChatGPT for ideas. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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