Artificial intelligence (AI) is ushering in the age of intelligent and learning machines. Foreseen for years, it is now with us.
Robots tackling tasks done by humans already abound today, and when partnered with smart sensors, there’s probably no manual task that is beyond them.
But it requires a mind shift to appreciate that the age of robots taking over the thinking of humans is also upon us.
It’s a fact. Today’s AI-trained machines can think and learn from their mistakes and are speedily becoming part of our lives.
Banking: If you bank online, AI is helping you. For example, it confirms that your digital signature is genuine.
Texting: The autocorrect function on our smartphones is AI at work. It gets to know your frequently used letters and writing patterns and suggests corrections to sharpen up your compositions.
Navigation: AI powers Google Maps by cross-checking the accuracy of the stream of map updates that flows in.
Search engines: AI helps to ‘customise’ search engines according to input. For example, using the information you’ve searched for, it tracks your interests and targets you with advertisements likely to appeal to you.
Social media: AI customises social media platforms.
Audio to text: AI converts voice to text, coping with the many variations of tone and expression.
Amazing as these applications are, they pale into insignificance compared with the latest AI-powered chatbots.
Chatbots have been around for many years, and you’ll be familiar with Siri and Alexa, for example, but these were more toys than tools. What has set the chatbot world ablaze has been the recent release of ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI, which is based in San Francisco, US, and funded by tech giants such as Microsoft.
ChatGPT answers questions in conversational form. So convincing is it that you feel as if you’re interacting with a real person. In my first experience of it, I found myself being polite and typing ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ spontaneously!
In a recent article, Bill Gates said: “AI is the most important advance in technology since the graphical user interface.” (This is the ‘Windows look’, with icons you can click on with your mouse arrow, or the touch screen technology we all use on our smartphones and iPads. )
“It will reshape countless industries just as the PC, Internet, and mobile phone did before,” he added.
Gates recently challenged OpenAI management to develop a GPT model that could pass the tough, three-hour US AP (or advanced-placement) biology examination, expecting them to take two or three years. They did the job in a few months.
When tested, it answered 59 of the 60 multiple-choice questions correctly, achieving the equivalent of a college level A+ pass!
Just as I, and no doubt many others, have been discovering and learning about ChatGPT, OpenAI announced the release of GPT-4, an upgrade which handles not only text but images as well.
Other tech companies are scrambling to develop chatbots of their own, and huge investments are being made in this field.
Already Google, Microsoft and Adobe have added the latest AI features to their online tools and search engines.
There are, however, grave concerns. Leading tech experts recently issued a dramatic warning that machine intelligence could pose a risk to humanity. More than 1 000 leaders in the field, including Elon Musk, collectively urged a six-month moratorium on research until better regulation is in place.
Their fears include transgressions of privacy laws, destruction of jobs, dissemination of false information, and exposure of minors to unsuitable answers to their questions.
Adding to the controversy and uncertainty about the future of this technology is the reaction of governments. Italy recently became the first country in the West to ban the use of ChatGPT, joining Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, who had already outlawed it.
Whether you decide to make use of it or not, you need to grasp the enormous power of the latest digital AI-powered technology. Give it a try and make up your own mind.
Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant.