The dark side of artificial intelligence

published also on DZone 10/2023

As a technician, I am quite quickly fascinated by all sorts of things that somehow blink and beep, no matter how useless they may be. Electronic gadgets attract me like moths to the light. For a while now, a new generation of toys has been available to the masses. Artificial intelligence applications, more precisely artificial neural networks. The freely available applications are already doing remarkable things and it is only the beginning of what could get possible in the future. Many people have not yet realized the scope of A.I. based applications. This is not surprising, because what is happening in the A.I. sector will change our lives forever. We can rightly say that we are living in a time that is making history. It will be up to us to decide whether the coming changes will be good or whether they will turn out to be a dystopia.

When I chose artificial intelligence as a specialization in my studies many years ago, the time was still characterized by so-called expert systems. These rule-based systems were highly specialized for their domain and were designed for corresponding experts. The system was supposed to support the expert in making decisions. Meanwhile, we also have the necessary hardware to create much more general systems. If we consider applications like ChatGPT, they are based on neural networks, which allows a very high flexibility in usage. The disadvantage, however, is that we as developers can hardly understand what output a neural network produces for any given input. A circumstance that makes most programmers I know rather take a negative attitude. Because they are no longer master of the algorithm and can only act on the principle of trial and error.


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Künstliche Intelligenz

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Nevertheless, the power of neural networks is astounding. The time seems gone now when one can make fun of clumsy automated, software-supported translations. Frommy own experience I remember how tedious it was to let the Google Translator translate a sentence from German into Spanish. To get a usable result you could either use the English – Spanish option. Alternatively, if you speak only rudimentary English for vacation use, you could still formulate very simple German sentences that were at least correct in content. The time saved for automatically translated texts is considerable, even though you have to proofread them and adjust some wording if necessary.

As much as I appreciate being able to work with such powerful tools, we have to be aware that there is also a downside. The more we do our daily tasks with A.I. based tools, the more we lose the ability to do these tasks manually in the future. For programmers, this means that over time they will lose their ability to express themselves in source code via A.I. based IDEs. Of course, this is not a process that happens overnight, but is gradual. Once this dependency is created, the question arises whether the available dear tools will remain free of charge or whether existing subscriptions will possibly be subject to drastic price increases. After all, it should be clear to us that commercially used tools that significantly improve our productivity are usually not available at low prices.

I also think that the Internet as we are used to it so far, will change very much in the future. Many of the free services that have been financed by advertising will disappear in the medium term. Let’s take a look at the StackOverFlow service as an example. A very popular knowledge platform among developer circles. If we now in the future the research to questions of programming ChatGPT or other neural networks are questioned for StackOverFlow the visitor numbers sink continuously. The knowledge base in turn ChatGPT uses is based on data from public forums like StackOverFlow. So for the foreseeable future StackOverFlow will try to make its service inaccessible to AIs. There could certainly also be an agreement with compensation payments. So that the omitted advertising revenues are compensated. As technicians, we do not need to be told that an offer like StackOverFlow incurs considerable costs for operation and development. It then remains to be seen how users will accept the offer in the future. If no new data is added to StackOverFlow, the knowledge base for A.I. systems will also become uninteresting. I therefore suspect that by around 2030, it will be primarily high-quality content on the Internet that will be subject to a charge.

If we look at the forecast of the medium-term trend in the demand for programmers, we come to the question of whether it will be a good recommendation in the future to study computer science or to start an apprenticeship as a programmer. I actually see a positive future here and would encourage anyone who sees education as a vocation and not as a necessity to make a living. In my opinion, we will continue to need many innovative minds. Only those who instead of dealing with basics and concepts prefer to quickly learn a current framework in order to keep up with the emerging hyphe of the market, will certainly achieve only limited success in the future. However, I have already made these observations before the wide availability of A.I. systems. Therefore, I am firmly convinced that quality will always prevail in the long run.

I consider it a virtue to approach all kinds of topics as critically and attentively as possible. Nevertheless, I must say that some fears in dealing with A.I. are quite unfounded. You have already seen some of my possible visions of the future in this article. Statements that A.I. will one day take over our world by subtly influencing uninitiated users to motivate them to take action are, in my opinion, pure fantasy for a period up to 2030 and, given the current state of knowledge, unfounded. Much more realistically I see the problem that if resourceful marketing people litter the Internet with inferior non-revised A.I. generated articles to spice up their SEO ranking and this in turn as a new knowledge cab of the neural networks the quality of future A.I. generated texts significantly reduced.

The A.I. systems that have been freely available so far have one decisive difference compared to humans. You lack the motivation to do something on your own initiative. Only through an extrinsic request by the user does the A.I. begin to work on a question. It becomes interesting when an A.I. dedicates itself to self-selected questions and also researches them independently. In this case the probability is very high that the A.I. will develop a consciousness very fast. If such an A.I. then still runs on a high performance quantum computer, we do not have sufficient reaction time to recognize dangerous developments and to intervene. Therefore, we should definitely keep the play “The Physicists” created by Dürrenmatt in our consciousness. Because the ghosts I called once, I will possibly not get rid of so fast again.

Basically, I have to admit that the topic of A.I. continues to fascinate me and I am very curious about future developments. Nevertheless, I think it is important not to close our eyes to the dark side of artificial intelligence and to start an objective discourse in order to exploit the existing potential of this technology as harmlessly as possible.

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