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The wily veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger joins forces with two pioneers in the field of Information Technology, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher, in deliberating and dissecting a future in which Artificial Intelligence will play not just a key role, but constitute an inevitable and integral way of life itself. “The Age of AI and Our Human Future” is divided into seven very readable Chapters. From how we got into knots and tangles mulling about AI, to how very dependable we have become on technology to get by in our day to day lives, the book addresses the paradigm shifts that AI has birthed in the realms of technology, culture, and politics. The ramifications are real and significant. How we choose to address them would impact the way man co-exists with machines.
The Age of Enlightenment unleashed a freedom in thinking, the likes of which was never imagined before. The world was rife with intellectual debates that threated to upend received wisdom and entrenched dogmas. Intrepid explorers set out on voyages that assimilated cultures yet birthed rampant colonialization. Revolutions removed rigidity as the voices and Science and reasoning found amplification. This Age naturally segued into a 20th Century Revolution that had Physics at its epicentre. Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger gave the prevailing understanding of Quantum Theory, a gigantic shake and things would never be the same again.
The visceral and mercurial genius of Alan Turing not only had a massive impact in shortening the horrors of World War II, but it also led to an astounding possibility of intersectionality between man and machine. The Turing Test proposed that if a machine operated proficiently that observers could not distinguish its behavior from human’s, the machine should be labeled intelligent. The scramble for ‘alternative intelligence’ was well and truly on!
In the year 2017, Google’s AI programme Alpha Go, connivingly beat the world’s best player of Go, the hugely complex ancient strategy game involving billions of permutations and combinations. The prevailing world champion, Ke Jie was forced to concede, even though he took Alpha Go to the very limit. Deep Mind the entity that developed Alpha Go, employs a language called Gopher. Smaller than other ultra-large language software. Gopher has some 280 billion different parameters, or variables that it can tune. While AI can aid immensely in furthering humanity’s cause, as was startlingly evident in the race to find a vaccine to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in record time using incredibly sophisticated genome sequencing and molecular analysis software, it is not without its attendant pitfalls. Generative Pre-trained Transformer or GPT for short is an AI platform that has the capability to respond to prompts, with an objective of generating a human readable, sensible text. While GRP has been used to write articles, poetry, stories, news reports and dialogue, the platform can also create synthetic meanings, fake personalities. Those fake users can produce any fake and any hate contents.
A development known as “generative adversarial network” (GANs) has exacerbated the already dangerous power of deep fakes. So what are these GANs? GANs represent algorithmic architectures employing two neural networks. These two neural networks are pitted against each other. The quintessential purpose behind such a face off being to generate new, synthetic instances of data that can pass for real data. GANs are liberally used to generate images videos and voice. The man behind the propagation of GANs was Ian Goodfellow, a researcher at the University of Montreal. While GANs have immense value in the domains of music and speech, their potential to birth evil is also immense. GANs are the primary vehicles to purvey Deepfakes by using voice and image overlays for derogatory and depraved purposes.
A classic example of disquiet created by the use of AI has been the controversy relating to Tik Tok, the almost ubiquitous and extremely popular application offering seemingly silly and at times licentious video clips aimed at youth and teens. Released in 2017 to be compatible with Android and iOS phones in 2017, Tik Tok has been downloaded a dizzying 2 billion times and has over 130 million users in the United States alone. However, of late there has been an extraordinary outrage over the use of Tik Tok for motives devious and purposes, obscene. Tik Tok has also been alleged to be used as a medium of spying for the Chinese Government. The app apparently doubles as a proxy for ferreting intelligence and information. India and the United States have banned the downloading of the application.
The use of AI for defense purposes also has triggered a wave of protests globally. Drone policies and experiments with hypersonic weapons raise concerns, both humanitarian as well as philosophical/moral. At the time of this review, China has conducted a couple of hypersonic weapons tests. One such weapon termed the hypersonic glide vehicle is launched from a missile or rocket. After such a launch, the craft separates and hurtles towards its target. Unnerved by this development, the United States has vowed to follow suit with tests of their own.
Another invasive quality that is the preserve of AI is represented by its surveillance capabilities. This attribute of AI has been perfected by China as a result of which more than 1.8 million Uighurs find themselves incarcerated in draconian concentration camps, euphemistically named “reeducation centres”.
However the book sidesteps a more relevant and urgent offshoot of the AI conundrum – the teleological dilemma that is innate to and ingrained in any seminal development ushered in by AI. It would have been very beneficial if this aspect of the AI debate could have been addressed. Perhaps, this was not the underlying intent or premise characterizing the book.
“The Age of AI and Human Future”, while attempting to alleviate the fears and concerns of its readers regarding the rapid development and employment of AI in various sectors of the economy, also leaves them battling questions of import and gravity, that yet remain unanswered.