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Artificial Intelligence vs. The Government vs. The People
It's The Tortoise vs. The Hare, but this hare moves exponentially fast and the tortoise is far from steady
We’re heading into the final months of The Year of Artificial Intelligence and at this point just about everyone on the planet now knows something about the once nerdy topic and how it promises to change the world as we know it.
Working in tech I had always been aware of AI and would occasionally research OpenAI’s past GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) versions and Google’s Magenta (machine learning for music and art) in hopes of glimpsing the future of advancement and opportunity in the space.
But late last year when I started to play around with the newly released ChatGPT by OpenAI, I was blown away by how far along AI actually was. Released in such a practical manner as a chat interface, its power and value were immediately apparent. At that point, I honestly felt that artificial intelligence was five to ten years ahead of where I had previously thought.
In the months since, ChatGPT, the chat based LLM (Large Language Model), has become ubiquitous with Artificial Intelligence in the public mind and is now practically a household name representing the prevalence of an entire movement in technology.
AI Hype and Fear
Following the proliferation of ChatGPT through social and news media there has been a massive wave of speculation resulting in both excitement and fear around the potential of such transformative technology.
I admit that I share sentiment on both sides as I continue to process the potential and application of related technology and its future iterations. In the past it was often thought that technology would first disrupt lower skilled jobs in the form of assembly line and french fry tossing robots, but it is now apparent that it is the higher skilled knowledge based professions (my profession of coding included) that could feel the weight of this change initially and most heavily.
I think much of the initial fear that was felt in the first wave of realization has subsided a bit, but the reality is that change will come, and potentially very quickly. With the intellectual power that ChatGPT (and LLMs in general) has demonstrated it is hard to argue that knowledge work will be affected greatly as tools and features that leverage this power become more fine-tuned and useful in job functions.
After some initial concern, I maintain that for people who commit to continuous learning and stay up to date on the latest processes and tools, the future of the AI economy lies much more in human augmented job function rather than all out automation.
For those who don’t evolve quickly though, it could be a rough ride. And for institutions that are resistant to evolution and efficiency, mainly our government, herein lies the problem…
Put simply, it says a lot about our corporate capitalist culture that fear is the prevalent emotion when thinking about the effect of AI on jobs and the economy.
In an alternate scenario, advances in technology would mean the betterment of all humanity as essential needs such as food, shelter and medicine become so easily accessible and cheap to produce that society enters a Utopian era. Advancement in overall efficiency and productivity could mean less time working for necessity and more time for personal growth, creativity, exploration and improvement of humanity. It could mean less pain, poverty and suffering for people as a whole.
But that’s not how our society currently works.
Diving into the reason and details of why we’re headed one way and not another is a topic for another time, but the fact is that our current business culture is rooted in competition and the maximization of profit. And in this system, labor is often the largest expense.
In this method of business that has fueled American economic power for decades, disruption has often entered and changed markets. The resulting loss of labor in one market would ultimately be re-distributed to another that emerged from the progress and change caused by the same disruption.
Up to this point, this has been an expected and acceptable part of progress and growth within a society and the economy that fuels it. A healthy by-product of progress and evolution.
But when the broad introduction and integration of artificial intelligence promises to bring disruption and labor reduction into absolutely every market, it manifests a scenario that has not yet been seen in human history.
Moore’s Law says that technology will build upon itself exponentially, getting faster and faster in each iteration. With recent advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are trending toward the vertical trajectory of a progress curve that promises to increase exponentially with time.
Put simply, given the opportunity to reduce labor costs and maximize profit, large corporations and businesses that are the foundation of our economy will not hesitate to do so. And with the compound efficiency and speed with which AI is growing, in a worst case scenario, this could mean a significant reduction in employment across industries.
AI Speed vs. Government Inefficiency
Herein lies the issue involving government. One could speculate a dystopian trending scenario leads to unemployment numbers that could potentially collapse the economy.
Extreme cases of corporate pursuit in minimizing labor cost and maximizing profit through the power of AI could lead to irrelevance of human job function across industries. The respective household incomes of former employees would then plummet as their career skills became irrelevant compared to machines that can now do their old job five times faster.
With reduction in consumer purchasing power due to unemployment, there soon arrives a scenario in which formerly employed consumers, now broke, can no longer purchase the services and goods of the companies who previously employed them.
In effect the companies that laid off the employees to reduce labor cost and maximize profit also reduced their customer base and its ability to contribute to their bottom line. Spread across industries at an unprecedented pace, this stagnation of monetary flow could potentially collapse the economy. After all, what is the purpose of a business existing if it no longer has customers to service.
It would be a case of capitalism eating itself.
The speed at which AI is capable of disruption is the key factor to this scenario making it unique in comparison to past shifts in industry innovation affecting economy.
Conversely, the lack of speed at which governments operate hinders the potential that safeguards and solutions could prevent such massive economic disruption.
As in other historical shifts in industry and economy there are methods through laws and legislation that governments can employ to prevent catastrophic shifts in the labor market and its contribution to the balance of the economy. Economies are momentous things, however, and if not implemented in due time, these solutions could be rendered useless.
Regarding speed and efficiency, the government (at least the American version) does not have a good track record. And things seem to be somehow getting worse as corruption and conflicting interest continue to spread within government, further distancing its individual contributors from the masses of people they represent.
Regardless of the extent of economic change that will ushered in by the growth of AI, a key factor in the balance of society will be the government’s ability to pass legislation in support of a healthy economy. Take a look at any of the recent tech-centric senate hearings of the few years with the likes of powerful tech companies such as Facebook, Google and TikTok. In doing so it becomes immediately apparent that we have a long way to go to gain any sort of confidence in the cognizance and abilities of our government concerning advanced technology.
The AI Election of 2024
It warrants a brief note that in the near term, AI is already promising to disrupt politics, and subsequently economy, in its enabling bad actors to influence public opinion and sentiment through social media. Specifically, the rapid advancement in quality of deepfake technology is creating a troublesome setting for the upcoming US presidential election of 2024.
If you remember all the media mudslinging an speculation around Russian bots in 2016 and 2020, then brace yourself for the imminent tsunami of ultra-realistic deepfake Trumps, Bidens, Clintons and more speaking directly to voters through social media content that caters exactly to their passionate beliefs. This ability to persuasively deceive could swing favor and incite further division in an already tragically unbalanced political populous.
Thinking about this nearly certain occurrence and the potential contribution to further political turmoil, I am somewhat shocked that more isn’t being done in preparation for it. But I guess that’s is the issue. Things are moving so fast, no one knows what to do about it, let alone the misguided government monolith who’s primary charge is, ironically, to maintain balance and relative harmony in a society.
Vigilance in an AI Future
I want to be clear that I don’t intend to be pessimistic in this take on the potential future of AI and our society and economy, I’m simply processing and exploring scenarios as I learn more and ruminate on all these changes being so quickly introduced into our world.
I remain excited about technology and trust that people will evolve, as they always have, to use AI as a tool and companion in an intelligent advancement toward a better future.
Ultimately, I believe in the fundamental integrity and communal solidarity of the human spirit and hold hope that whatever change the future brings, the majority of people will work toward a balance and harmony that benefits humanity as a whole.
But I also believe that if we, and our respective governments, don’t push to be nimble and vigilant in our education and action regarding the power that is quickly manifesting around us, it could be a bumpy ride.
Exciting Tech of the Week
Slated to be an enhanced “Clippy” of the future, Copilot provides real-time intelligent assistance within the Microsoft 365 suite of products, promising to boost creativity, productivity, and skills in a natural and efficient manner. A practical assistant designed to support everyday tasks, Copilot seamlessly integrates the capabilities of large language models (LLMs) with organizational data, enhancing productivity within usual work routines.
My Creative Updates
This past week marked the launch of a big project in my day job, so I haven’t had much time for progress on my creative endeavors. I’m still working on filling out arrangements for a set of solo songs and am looking forward to some time off between tech projects to make more headway on that.
Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to start sharing more progress 🤞.
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