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10 Reasons Why We’re Afraid of AI Now More Than Ever
Generative AI has arrived, and we are now fully emersed in its era. At the forefront of tech innovation and encompassing a range of techniques, including deep learning and neural networks, generative AI has continued to gain steam and make remarkable advancements in recent years. AI algorithms now have the ability to create original and compelling content, including images, music, and even text that can be indistinguishable from human-generated content. It’s these capabilities that are gaining applications like ChatGPT so much coverage in the media.
ChatGPT’s remarkable ability to engage in human-like conversations and provide coherent and contextually relevant responses has captured the imagination of users worldwide. With ever-expanding knowledge bases and capacities for continuous learning, generative AI is revolutionizing how we interact with machines and opening up new possibilities across industries ranging from customer service and entertainment to creative writing and education. It’s also raising worldwide concern.
At the moment, you can’t go a day without seeing or hearing about concerns related to AI in the news. And while experts may disagree about whether or not it’s warranted, there are many good reasons why generative AI is getting so much attention.
Here are ten reasons why we’re afraid of AI now more than ever.
10 Fear of the Unknown
We humans have a tendency to let our imaginations run away with us. As this cutting-edge technology continues to advance, the general public finds themselves grappling with uncertainties about its potential implications. Remember deepfake Tom Cruise? Well, the ability of generative AI to create highly realistic and convincing content, such as deepfake videos and fabricated text, continues to create cause for concern and a perfect storm for public mistrust.
Most of us don’t fully understand the extent of generative AI’s capabilities, but that’s also because there’s an unknowable factor involved. The rapid pace of development and the potential for AI to surpass human intelligence in the future contributes to this unease as people ponder the implications and ethical considerations associated with creating entities that could potentially surpass or replace human capabilities.
But how many technological breakthroughs away are we really from that being a reality? That’s the question. And the truth is, we don’t know for sure. Some experts predict that highly autonomous AI systems capable of outperforming humans could be realized within the next few decades, while others believe it might take longer.
9 Books and Films Predict the Future
In cahoots with our runaway imaginations is how AI is often portrayed in books and movies, though not unfoundedly. Books and films predicting the future are not unheard of. In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted tablet computers and voice-controlled artificial intelligence. Neuromancer, published in 1984, predicted the rise of a connected digital world and explored themes of hacking, AI, and the blending of reality and virtuality.
These days, advanced AI, be it systems or android robots, are too often framed as inherently evil or out for human blood. Some would say this is also not unfounded, as AI see humans as a threat not only to their own well-being but essentially the well-being of everything on the planet.
Both Hollywood and books have played a significant role in contributing to the fear surrounding AI over the years, with numerous films depicting dystopian scenarios where AI technology, including generative AI, runs amok. These cinematic portrayals often highlight the potential dangers and ethical dilemmas associated with AI, emphasizing themes of human subjugation, loss of control, and existential threats.
Movies like Ex Machina, Blade Runner, and The Matrix have successfully ingrained the notion of a malevolent AI into popular culture, amplifying public apprehension. Its portrayal in films perpetuates fear of AI by framing AI beings as deceptive and manipulative. Few portray AI beings like that of Bicentennial Man, which explores positive human-AI relationships and the potential of AI to contribute to the betterment of human lives. Whether our fears are spurred on by our biological drive to survive or whether it is sensationalism, how AI will evolve and its relationship with humans is yet unknown.
8 Job Displacement
Will AI replace us? The fear that generative AI will replace human jobs is a valid concern. Robots don’t eat, sleep, or need breaks. For humans, our jobs are our survival. As technology advances, there is a growing apprehension that AI-powered systems will automate tasks traditionally performed by humans, leading to widespread unemployment and economic disruption.
Generative AI’s ability to mimic human creativity and produce content, such as art, music, or even written articles, raises concerns among professionals in those fields. Additionally, the automation of various industries, such as manufacturing, customer service, or transportation, further fuels anxieties about job displacement. It is already commonplace to engage with conversational AI or chatbots, for example, before you ever finally get a chance to speak to a real human in customer service.
However, while generative AI has the potential to automate certain tasks, it is important to remember that it also opens up new possibilities and creates opportunities for innovation. Rather than simply replacing jobs, the fact that AI can augment human capabilities, enabling individuals to focus on more complex and creative endeavors, is lesser considered.
History has shown that technological advancements often lead to the creation of new industries and job opportunities. One of my college anthropology professors once said there are two kinds of people: those who believe our ways of life are being diminished with time and those who believe that our ways of life are ever-changing and evolving.
Perhaps it’s important to note that adapting and preparing for a changing landscape has always been the hallmark of those who continuously stay relevant in a changing world. Be agile like Madonna, or get left behind.
It is very difficult to control how fast AI learns, as noted in “Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics” by Vincent C. Müller and many other published explorations on the topic. AI systems can exhibit unintended learning behaviors or pick up biases from the training data or the environment they interact with. These biases and unintended learnings may occur even when the initial intentions or objectives of the system’s developers are different.
Controlling and mitigating such unintended learning can be a complex task. The current lack of robust regulation around generative AI is a significant concern for various reasons. As this technology evolves and becomes increasingly sophisticated, its potential impact on society raises ethical, legal, and safety considerations. Without proper regulations in place, there is a higher risk of misuse and abuse of generative AI systems, and the buck doesn’t stop at deepfake videos.
Concerns surrounding privacy and data security arise, as generative AI often relies on vast amounts of data, raising questions about ownership, consent, and protection of personal information. The lack of regulation poses challenges in ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in the development and deployment of generative AI systems.
Without appropriate guidelines, there is a higher likelihood of biased or discriminatory outcomes, exacerbating existing societal inequalities. Establishing comprehensive regulations that address these issues is crucial to harnessing the benefits of generative AI while minimizing its potential risks and safeguarding the interests of individuals and society as a whole.
6 Even Elon Musk Is Scared
Many prominent technology experts, like Bill Gates and Geoffrey Hinton (aka the Godfather of AI), have expressed concerns and reservations about the development and implications of artificial intelligence (AI). Even Elon Musk, the man who wants to put civilians on Mars, has openly expressed his concerns about our ability to control AI. The apprehension of many tech leaders stems from the potential risks associated with AI surpassing human intelligence and the potential consequences of uncontrolled or unchecked AI advancement.
Elon Musk has warned about the existential threat AI poses, expressing concerns about the lack of proper regulations and the need for proactive safety measures. Similarly, Bill Gates has highlighted the need for careful management of AI development to prevent unintended consequences. Geoffrey Hinton, who recently quit his job as a vice president of Google, said one of his reasons for doing so was so that he could speak freely of the dangers of a technology he helped develop.
These industry leaders fear that AI could potentially outpace human control, leading to unintended outcomes or even posing risks to humanity’s well-being. Their insights and warnings emphasize the importance of responsible and ethical AI development, encouraging a thoughtful approach that takes into account the potential risks and ensures the technology’s benefits are harnessed while minimizing potential negative impacts. 
5 Invasion of Privacy
I was talking to a friend of mine over the phone the other day (yes, some people still do that), and she called her daughter, Alexis, to take out the trash. Then I heard in the background: “I know this stinks, but I can’t help you with that.” Her Alexa-enabled device thought she was talking to it. Everyone has experienced mentioning something in mere passing conversation only to see it advertised in mass across their social media platforms instantaneously.
Voice assistants powered by generative AI, such as Siri or Alexa, have the capability to listen to our conversations. This has played a role in privacy concerns by exposing the widespread monitoring of electronic communications, both within the United States and abroad, raising significant concerns about privacy, civil liberties, and government surveillance practices.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when the world was forced to rely on technology more than ever before, cybersecurity breaches reached an all-time high. This is due, in part, to the increasing sophistication of AI systems and their ability to process and analyze vast amounts of personal data. Cybercriminals leverage AI capabilities in nefarious activities ranging from highly sophisticated phishing scams to generating highly convincing fake identities for the purpose of fraud or espionage.
Further eroding public trust and compromising privacy, AI-powered surveillance systems, including facial recognition and behavioral analysis, have the capacity to monitor and track individuals’ activities, infringing upon their right to privacy. The collection and analysis of personal data by AI algorithms further raise concerns about data breaches and unauthorized access, potentially leading to identity theft and other privacy-related risks. As AI continues to advance, establishing robust privacy regulations and safeguards is crucial to ensuring that individuals’ personal information is protected, and their privacy rights are upheld in an AI-driven world.
4 Weaponized Use
Speaking of cyberattacks, weaponized AI has already proven to be a very powerful weapon. The ability of generative AI to create highly realistic and convincing content, coupled with its potential for manipulation, poses a threat in the realm of disinformation and propaganda, raising major ethical concerns. This could lead to the dissemination of false narratives, political manipulation, and social unrest.
The weaponization of generative AI only undermines trust and democratic processes. It also has the potential to cause significant harm on individual, societal, and even international levels. This underscores the urgent need for stringent regulations, robust cybersecurity measures, and international cooperation to address the potential risks and prevent the misuse of generative AI in a weaponized context.
3 Hostile Takeover
Not long ago, in 2015, “Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers” was published and signed by numerous researchers in the field of AI, highlighting concerns about the development of autonomous weapons and the potential risks they pose. In that letter, researchers emphasize the capability of weaponized AI to select and engage targets without human intervention, highlighting the potential dangers and ethical implications associated with such weapons.
Once activated, these systems can operate independently, making decisions that can have life-and-death consequences without direct human oversight. The letter sheds light on the need for international cooperation and legislation to ensure the responsible use of AI and robotics technologies in the context of warfare. It also argues that without appropriate guidelines and constraints, autonomous weapons could lead to an AI-driven arms race, the proliferation of AI lethal systems, and the erosion of human control over warfare.
As of May 2023, the Congressional Research Service notes: “Contrary to a number of news reports, U.S. policy does not prohibit the development or employment of LAWS.” In fact, the only directive from the DOD is that all systems allow human operators to exercise human judgment over the use of force and that system operators and commanders be “adequately trained” on lethal autonomous weapons systems. So what’s to prevent weaponized AI from turning on us? The answer is not much in the way of regulation and legislation. But are we even there yet technologically?
2 You Can’t Hide from AI
As humans, we curate what we allow others to see, whether on social media or in person, and when the reality is beyond more than meets the eye. Nothing makes humans feel more vulnerable than being completely exposed. The facial recognition and behavioral analysis capabilities of AI have the potential to do more than just infringe on our right to privacy.
Ongoing advancements in AI research and development are aimed at improving the capabilities of AI systems to understand and interact with humans. AI systems can leverage the vast amounts of data they collect to recognize patterns and make predictions or decisions about human behavior. If AI understands how humans work and has the capability to monitor and track our every move, that gives it an advantage over humans that most people are very uncomfortable with.
With minimal regulation on these AI capabilities, what’s to ensure that this technology is used in a manner that respects human values and rights? Fear of the unknown is a hard habit to break.
1 Threat to Human Existence
The potential for AI to pose a threat to human existence is a topic of ongoing debate and speculation among experts. It’s difficult to predict the future with certainty, but the long-term impact of advanced AI on humanity is of significant concern at the moment. In May of this year, an open statement urging world leaders to treat AI with the same caution as other mass extinction threats was signed and released by hundreds of tech experts, researchers, academics, and tech executives from AI corporations, including Microsoft, Google, OpenAI, and Deepmind.
It reads: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”
Many researchers and organizations are actively working on AI safety and ethics. One of their primary goals is to ensure that AI systems are developed to serve and adhere to humanity’s best interests.
In the 2001 film AI, perhaps our worst fears come true. Humans are extinct two thousand years into the future, and humanoid robots (autonomous AI) remain, though they’re not the killer AI we’re so afraid of. Predicting the future and the potential risks associated with advanced AI systems is challenging. Will AI replace us? Is AI the natural evolution and future of humanity? When we’re gone, will it remain? Time will tell.