Friday, July 12, 2024

The Double Edged Sword That is Artificial Intelligence

Around this time last year, I wrote about my concerns with artificial intelligence (AI), and in the dozen months that have followed, my concerns have only grown.

As I expressed a year ago, I have real concerns about whether we will know what to believe in the future, whether we will know what is real and what is not, as we listen to audio, or watch video whether for news or entertainment. To illustrate my concern, I shared the story of a news outlet in India unveiling its first full-time artificial intelligence news anchor, named Sana. She looks real, and sounds real, but she is anything but, she is a product of AI.

As artificial intelligence technology improves, we soon will be unable to distinguish between what is real and what is created by AI. While this technology might be mind-boggling in its ability, it is also potentially dangerous, as it will most certainly be used to fabricate news events, to create interviews that never actually took place, and to have real people say and do things that they didn’t actually do or say,” I wrote a year ago.

In recent months there has been no shortage of articles and opinion pieces ringing the alarm bells about AI. In April alone, I have read and watched dozens of news reports about the AI issue, with concerns ranging from government use of AI to musicians concerned about their likenesses being stolen by AI to create music they have never performed.

Musicians are confronting artificial intelligence as digital copycats flood the internet,” the CBC reported earlier this month. “The Artist Rights Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization, issued an open letter this week calling on artificial intelligence tech companies, developers, platforms and digital music services to stop using AI to infringe upon and devalue the rights of human artists.”

Another report this month highlighted the use of AI by our Canadian government.

Canada’s federal government has used artificial intelligence in nearly 300 projects and initiatives, new research has found — including to help predict the outcome of tax cases, sort temporary visa applications and promote diversity in hiring,” a CBC report informed.

The report noted, for example, that AI has been used by the federal government for legal research and predictions.

The Canada Revenue Agency said it uses a system that allows users to input variables related to a case that will provide an anticipated outcome by using analytics to predict how a court would likely rule in a specific scenario, based on relevance and historical court decisions,” the report noted. “And the Canadian Institutes of Health Research uses labour relations decisions software. It compares a specific situation to previous cases and simulates how different facts might affect the outcome, the register outlines. At the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy, AI flags anomalies in estate filings.”

The RCMP have also been testing AI technology to identify child sexual assault material and to aid in rescuing victims.

So, not all uses of AI are unsavoury, or intended to deceive, of course. Governments, including in Canada, are increasingly making use of the technology, but it would be fair to question whether they are using AI for less than honourable purposes, and if they are, would we even know?

The Liberal government has proposed the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act, which would be the first federal bill aimed at AI technology, though as critics have pointed out, the proposed legislation will not apply in most instances to government uses of AI.

For example, Bill C-27 would introduce new obligations in the private sector for ‘high impact’ systems, such as the use of AI in employment, yet the Department of National Defence has experimented with such AI technology in an effort to ‘reduce bias’ during hiring decisions back in 2021.

Certainly there are beneficial uses for AI technology, but the potential for misuse is great, and the ramifications of misuse could be monumental.

Being a news nerd, I am most concerned about the potential for AI-generated videos or other apparent ‘news’ reports that could feature what appears to be a political leader, or a police chief, or anyone frankly, saying things that they actually have not said. That ability to manipulate the image of anyone could cause misinformation; it could start riots or even wars.

As artificial intelligence technology improves, we soon will be unable to distinguish between what is real and what is created by AI. While this technology might be mind-boggling in its ability, it is also potentially dangerous, as it will most certainly be used to fabricate news events, to create interviews that never actually took place, and to have real people say and do things that they didn’t actually do or say,” I wrote on this page a year ago. “Consumers of news will have to become hyper-vigilant in the years to come. Those of us already concerned with the accuracy of the news we are consuming are well accustomed to cross-referencing legitimate news outlets in order to determine the accuracy of any given story, but AI will present new challenges to news consumers. The very video clips we might see in a ‘news’ story could now be completely fabricated; even if the people who appear in such video clips are known to all, their actions or words in a given video might be anything but real.”

As you can see, the potential impacts of runaway AI technology are significant, and one of the greatest concerns is that we quite likely will not be aware that AI has been used to create art, entertainment, or even news reporting, and that should concern everyone.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, but technology that can be weaponized and used to deceive or defraud is concerning indeed.

We are in real danger in the not very distant future of living in a world where nothing we see or hear can be trusted, a world where we might need to spend more time tracking down the provenance of video clips we see on the news in order to verify their legitimacy than any of us will have time for. Some might celebrate these technological advancements, but nobody will be celebrating when it becomes impossible to distinguish between reality and artificial intelligence.

 

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