By Angela Reinhardt, Staff Writer
“AI Reviews MoMA’s Latest Exhibition.”
That was the subject line of an arts newsletter I received recently. Hyperallergic editors asked the most popular AI (Artificial Intelligence) chatbot, Chat GPT, to review the AI-influenced artwork of Refik Anadol. I had to read it.
The first question was straightforward – write a review and what’s your critique? The AI response was straightforward, too, and could have easily been farmed from online reviews. Editors’ second question was more complex though – review the exhibition from a post-colonial perspective.
“From a post-colonial perspective, ‘Unsupervised’ can be interpreted as a commentary on the power dynamics and cultural hegemony that underpin the production and dissemination of knowledge…” and the review continues.
Chat GPT’s impressive connection between post-colonialism and AI art is one of many examples of AI creeping into our lives. Big tech companies are racing to introduce AI chatbots we can have conversations with. There’s AI-generated art and fiction writing; facial recognition; text editors; auto-correct; smart cars; and on and on and on. AI is pervasive now; it’s so much more than those clunky robot butlers from old science fiction films (Now that I think about it, where are all the robot butlers we were promised in a futuristic world?).
Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil (also Google’s director of engineering) and his theory of “singularity” comes to mind. Kurzweil predicts that by 2029 computers will have human-levels of intelligence, and that by 2045 we’ll reach what he calls “singularity,” a point-of-no-return “when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.”
It sounds anti-human and apocalyptic, but for Kurzweil – whose past predictions have been highly accurate – the future he sees isn’t AI vs. humans like in Terminator. He sees AI as a benefit to humans. He says AI is “ empowering all of us. They’re making us smarter.”
Smart phones are already ubiquitous even in non-industrialized countries, and have become extensions of our physical bodies. A few years ago only the biggest tech/gadget geeks carried cell phones on their physical person – it was strange to see. Now nearly everyone does. Smart phones are so important that people give up the use of one hand to carry them around, rather than putting it in a pocket or purse.
It’s not a stretch to think that in a few more years as tech and AI expand exponentially in “a law of accelerating returns,” people will want AI implanted in their bodies and brains to connect to the cloud just like the futurist predicts. In the last 15 years we’ve all lived through an exponential technological change, why is it unthinkable another just as significant a change won’t happen again?
The progression to singularity (if it does happen) will come in many steps, “each of which seems benign, but then we look back to see what the situation is.”
Kurzweil is describing a progressive normalization of AI and mediated (through screens/tech) reality that sneak up on us, and I’m pretty sure we’re already on a runaway train to get there. But is the train going somewhere that will make us regret our past choices? What are the philosophical implications of the future human life, human creativity, and human relationships in light of AI? In more present and relatable terms, which jobs will AI take away from humans, and which will they create?
I can’t answer those questions, but I do feel like it’s too late to turn the juggernaut AI ship around. I’m part of the very last generation that remembers life without the internet and AI. My teenagers don’t have that perspective, and I’d imagine their generation will be much less inclined than I am to preserve a way of living that they can’t relate to – one of being disconnected from technology most of the time.
Tech does improve life in many ways, but it’s sad the lo-tech life many of us knew will likely never return. I find myself occasionally fantasizing about finding some hidden world tech/AI never reached. Despite my belief that AI is here to stay – and that it will become even more pervasive in our lives – I also believe our humanity is not replaceable and we can choose how much tech we want integrated in our daily lives.
When I texted my editor to tell him I was finished with this article he responded. “I wonder how long a chatbot would have taken to write it?”
“LOL. Probably a lot less time,” I said.
Still, we agreed, there’s no substitute for things that are handcrafted by a human.
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