Don’t be sucked in by AI’s head-spinning hype cycles • TechCrunch

The last year has been a roller coaster ride in the AI ​​world, and no doubt many people are dizzy with the number of advances and reversals, the constant hype and equally constant fear mongering. But let’s take a step back: AI is a powerful and promising new technology, but the conversation isn’t always genuine, and it generates more heat than light.

AI is interesting to everyone from doctors to high school kids for good reason. Not every new technology both makes us question the fundamental natures of human intelligence and creativity, and lets us spawn an endless variety of dinosaurs fighting lasers.

This broad appeal means that the debate about what AI is, isn’t, could or shouldn’t have spread from trade conferences like NeurIPS to trade publications like this one, to the front page of impulse-buy news magazines at the grocery store. The threat and/or promise of AI (in a general sense, which lack of specificity is part of the problem) has become a household topic seemingly overnight.

On the one hand, it must be valid for researchers and engineers who have labored in relative obscurity for decades on what they consider an important technology to see it so widely considered and noticed. But like the neuroscientist whose paper results in a headline like “Scientists have located the exact center of love,” or the physicist whose ironically named “god particle” leads to a theological debate, surely it must also be frustrating to have their work bounced around. around among the hoi polloi (that’s unscrupulous experts, not innocent laymen) like a beach ball.

“AI can now…” is a very dangerous way to start any sentence (although I’m sure I’ve done it myself) because it’s very hard to say for sure what AI is really doing. It can certainly beat any human at chess or walking, and it can predict the structure of protein chains; it can answer any question confidently (if not correctly) and it can do a remarkably good impersonation of any artist, living or dead.

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But it’s hard to tease out which of these things are important, and to whom, and which will be remembered as briefly diverting parlor tricks in 5 or 10 years, like so many innovations that we’ve been told will change the world. The capabilities of AI are widely misunderstood because they have been actively misrepresented by both those who want to sell it or drive investment in it, and those who fear it or underestimate it.

It is obvious that there is a lot of potential in something like ChatGPT, but those building products with it would like nothing better than for you, perhaps a customer or at least someone who will encounter it, to think that it is more powerful and less prone to error. than it is Billions are being spent to ensure that AI is at the heart of all services – and not necessarily to improve them, but to automate them in the way that so much has been automated with mixed results.

Not to use the dreaded “they”, but they – meaning companies like Microsoft and Google, who have a huge financial interest in the success of AI in their core businesses (having invested heavily in it) – are not interested in changing the world for the better, but making more money. They are businesses, and AI is a product they sell or hope to sell – that’s not a slur against them, just something to keep in mind when making their claims.

On the other hand you have people who fear, with good reason, that their role will be phased out not because of actual obsolescence but because some credulous manager swallowed the “AI revolution” hook, line and sinker. People don’t read ChatGPT scripts and think, “oh no, this software does what I do.” They think, “this software seems to do what I do to people who don’t understand either.”

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That’s very dangerous when your work is systematically misunderstood or undervalued, as it is a lot. But it’s a problem with management styles, not AI by itself. Fortunately, we have bold experiments like CNET’s attempt to automate financial advice columns: the graves of such ill-advised efforts will serve as dire markers to those who think of making the same mistakes in the future.

But it’s just as dangerous to dismiss AI as a toy, or to say that it will never do such and such simply because it can’t now, or because an example of it has been seen to fail. It’s the same mistake the other side makes, but in reverse: proponents see a good example and say, “this shows it’s over for concept artists;” opponents see a bad example (or maybe the same one!) and say “this shows that it can never replace conceptual artists.”

Both build their houses on shifting sands. But both clicks and eyeballs are of course the fundamental currency of the online world.

And so you have these dual extreme takes that attract attention not for being thoughtful but for being reactive and extreme — which should surprise no one, because as we’ve all learned from the last decade, conflict drives engagement. What feels like a cycle of hype and disappointment is just fluctuating visibility in an ongoing and not very helpful argument about whether AI is fundamentally this or that. It has the feel of people in the 50s arguing over whether we should colonize Mars or Venus first.

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The reality is that many of those concept artists, not to mention novelists, musicians, tax preparers, lawyers, and every other profession that sees AI intervention in one way or another, are actually excited and interested. They know their work well enough to understand that even a really good imitation of what they do is fundamentally different from actually doing it.

Advances in AI happen more slowly than you think, not because there aren’t breakthroughs but because those breakthroughs are the result of years and years of work that isn’t as photogenic or shareable as stylized avatars. The biggest thing in the last decade was “Attention is all you need,” but we didn’t see that on the cover of Time. It’s certainly notable that as of this month or so, it’s good enough to do some things, but don’t think of this as AI “crossing a line” so much as AI moving further down a long, long gradient or continuum that even its most talented practitioners cannot see more than a few months of.

All this is just to say, don’t get caught up in either the hype or the naysayers. What AI can or can’t do is an open question, and if someone says they know, check to see if they’re trying to sell you something. What humans can choose to do with the AI ​​we already have, though – that’s something we can and should talk more about. I can live with a model who can ape my writing style — anyway I’m just imitating a dozen other writers. But I’d rather not work for a company that algorithmically determines pay or who gets fired, because I wouldn’t trust those who put that system in place. As usual, the technology isn’t the threat – it’s the people who use it.

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