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  • Blakelyn Faia

Considering the danger - and opportunity - of AI



By Blakelyn Faia 


We are warned about the jeopardy of our jobs, the vulnerability of our privacy to the unknown, and the possibility of the world being overtaken — all because we are in the dark about artificial intelligence. 


The birth of AI - or “machine learning” - is actually many decades old, but its recent integration into the mainstream has caused both excitement and fear over its many potential adaptations to everyday life. 


This evolution has been in development for a while now. 


With the rapid development of the electronic computer since 1956, its ability to perform complex calculations and follow instructions based on symbolic logic gradually increased, giving these machines the ability to represent logical expressions through symbols and variables rather than ordinary language. 


These computers evolved, to the point of

mimicking human thought processes and expanding its applications far beyond just a search engine.


And currently we know this machine learning mainly as ChatGPT or Gemini. It has the ability to process data and create content so quickly and thoroughly that the implications are both intriguing and frightening.


This development laid the foundation for the rise of what is now known today as AI. 


Today, AI encompasses a wide range of technologies that have become ubiquitous in our surroundings, welcoming us to the age of “big data.” 


Big data marked a significant shift in technological trends that brought about a new outlook on understanding the world and the informed decisions we make within it. 


According to statistics, 328.77 million terabytes of data are created daily. Data is becoming more available and more comprehensible to computers, leading to a rapid evolution in machine learning and further development of AI. 


Deep learning enables AI to process data similar to the human brain, leading to significant advancements in areas such as self-driving cars, speech recognition, and image classification. 


AI’s influence has expanded across a wide range of new domains from self-driving cars to self-replicating robots — significantly impacting our everyday lives. 


Privacy and user engagement

As we browse social media, we encounter advertisements about subjects or products we've talked about, or even more unsettling, thought about.


This is not an accident, says Mitch Shue, professor and executive director of Clemson's AI Research Institute for Science and Engineering. 


“It's predicting what you would like to see based on what it knows about you. If you interact with it, then that's more data,” Shue said. 


AI collects little crumbs of information every moment we spend time online, Shue explained  — from scrolling on social media to what shows we watch, and how many times we rewatch them — all to better understand how humans interact. 


“It's a psychological operation against you that you're not really aware of,” Shue said. “You're just going with it.” 


Mia Wang, a computer science professor at The College of Charleston, explains that AI is a system of codes written by computer scientists or software engineers. Coding creates algorithms that enable the computer to make automatic decisions or tasks. 


AI is often perceived as human because of its capacity to mimic human-like behavior, but this wouldn't be achievable without someone training it on the backend. 


Wang reminds us that AI is still a system and is not yet “intelligence” where it could have an original thought or idea.


“We only use less than 10% of our brains. Our brain is full of potential,” she said. “But the computer nowadays — the physical part, the memory – we can still say is limited. If we have a limited memory, what they do is also limited.” 

When it comes to an individual’s privacy related to the advancement of AI, regulations aimed at protecting it are often disregarded. 


“There is not a lot of privacy and the information is out there,” Wang said. “There are thousands of information aggravators that will piece together this composite view of you and sell it to others – like themselves or companies – and that's how people know about you.”


A few regulations exist — laws are in place to limit AI from copyright infringement, discrimination, and algorithmic bias — but none of them are capable of overseeing every aspect effectively.


“I believe regulation is there, it's just that we don’t have an individual human-being to monitor each project or each action that has happened,” Wang said.


The truth is that privacy is increasingly challenging due to the technological advancements and popularity of social media. Yet, many aspects within the realm of human control can be regulated effectively, like what applications you chose to use.


“If you store information in iCloud, there's a possibility people can access it without your permission,” Wang said. “Google Mail can scan all your emails and use it to create an ad for what you like.”


Users also play a role in controlling which private information is readily accessible online.


“The general population says that they're concerned about privacy, but at the same time they're not very private people,” Shue said. “Advances in technology have always outpaced our ability to provide safeguards."


Part of the regulation hurdle is that it’s in the self interest of media companies and social networks to not safeguard our privacy.


“The more they know about you, the more they're likely to be able to feed you stuff that will keep you on their platform,” Shue said. “You just keep going down this hole and all of a sudden two hours have gone by.”


Navigating AI’s power 

There is significant power with AI, and although we can’t control the rapid development of AI, we can control how we choose to use the technology, which can help. 


Wang suggests people should aim for a level of intelligence surpassing AI tools such as ChatGPT.

 

“We just need to be smarter and ask questions that ChatGPT cannot solve directly,” she said. 


Shue emphasized the importance of not allowing AI’s power to consume you. 


“One thing I tell my students is don't outsource the entirety of your being to just ChatGPT,” Shue said. “AI is sort of like a math issue. Zero times a million is still zero — so don't do that — be a positive number of some sort and use ChatGPT to make yourself better.”

Feng Luo, a professor in the School of Computing and the founder and director of Clemson's AI Research Institute for Science and Engineering, emphasizes the importance of properly handling AI. 


“If AI is more powerful than humans, that's something we really need to worry about,” Luo said. “We have to control AI like we control the nuclear powers, so the damage is safe to societies and humans.” 


One way to control AI like a nuclear power, is to educate the system early on — before its possibility to extend beyond human control. 


“We need to write programs to teach it [AI], give it step by step instructions,” Wang said. “As humans’, our brain is so well trained, we don’t even realize whenever we do something, there is a decision that has been made.”


Humans have the capacity to make decisions that allow for increased control over the power of AI.


AI tools work for you, not against you 

After AI exploded into the mainstream a year ago with ChatGPT and other applications of generative AI, many people focused on the dangers AI could have on our lives and the future. 


But those who began exploring AI’s power in a variety of disciplines will be the ones to benefit the most from its potential.


“You have to catch up on new things,” Fuo said. “This is a time of lifetime learning.”


New generations of AI are emerging almost every year, posing challenges for keeping up with its advancements.


“In 5 or 10 years, I think everything will be integrated with AI. It could be more efficient, create ideas for you,” Fuo said. 


Fuo believes that this is just like any other new technology, such as the internet — it's a tool.


“I am very supportive of this AI industry because it will make our lives easier,” Wang said. “There are engineers out there still polishing what we have, and creating new features.”


Wang mentioned that she uses AI on a daily basis, such as locating her car in the parking lot and utilizing algorithms to shop online.


“I think there's a lot of room for raising awareness and getting people to think critically about what is really happening,” Shue said.

If used correctly, a lot of amazing things can result from AI, Shue believes, including making our lives easier. 


Thanks to AI, for example, personalized health care solutions are more accessible.


“AI has really helped us a lot with predicting and diagnosing disease,” Shue said. “It’s accelerated drug development and personalized health care solutions, it's really taken a burden off of these health care systems that are under pressure because people are getting older.”


We have the option to work with or against this new emerging technology. Those who choose to utilize AI and learn from it, are more likely to experience its benefits. 


“AI alone is not going to take your job but somebody who knows how to use AI could,” Shue said.


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