As chatbots gain muscle, a 6-month pause makes sense; but should we be scared?

As chatbots gain muscle, a 6-month pause makes sense; but should we be scared?

Where does it end? When all jobs are gone? But then, not all hyped tech has worked out in the end

Can we cope? And how? This is what those of us who depend on technology and computer programs and those who create them are left wondering as newer and updated versions of AI-powered chatbots keep getting released.

No one can really figure out the far reaches of human knowledge these chatbots can take us to. The lurking dangers are unimaginable. So, it is not a wonder that hi-tech gurus, including Elon Musk, signed a statement recently suggesting that we hit the pause button on these AI programs for at least six months — at least to figure out the muscle power of our creation like a horse breeder examining a six-month-old colt.

The issue at hand is the release of the GPT4 chatbot, a much advanced version of the GPT3, which already has the world scratching its head in disbelief. “GPT-4 is a leap in technology, not an evolution. It extends to video, audio, and imagery. It was trained on 170 trillion parameters, against GPT-3’s 170 billion. Its creative possibilities are endless,” tech columnist Kathryn Parsons wrote in The Sunday Times. A GPT chatbot is a conversational-style program with artificial intelligence and can answer all your questions in a chatty or normal writing style in a few seconds.

Out of hand?

One of the many unseen problems is that the GPT is getting a bit cleverer than it was programmed to. One of the top developers was quoted as saying that the GPT “hallucinates”. What? Yes, and creates stuff which it was not taught to.

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The larger question that confronts the world of high technology is how far we should go. Google, Microsoft, and various other biggies have already released their respective versions of the chatbot which can do most jobs. Google search engines will soon integrate the chatbot.

“Will people be able to ask questions to Google and engage with LLMs (large language models which can respond to natural language prompts) in the context of search? Absolutely,” Google’s top honcho Sundar Pichai told the Wall Street Journal on April 3.

Incidentally, there is already a robot-lawyer program which can create a lawsuit at the click of a button for a payment of 1,500 pounds if you get a scam call. Innumerable apps that work with chatbots are coming up. The type of jobs that LLM-enabled programs can do is unimaginable. In fact, even as I write this, ChatGPT can do the same in a couple of minutes. Drafting lawyers, reporting jobs, calculating jobs, and all clerical jobs are theoretically redundant.

Where does it end?

But where does it end? When all jobs are gone? Should we jump headlong into this world controlled by LLMs and algorithms? Actually, not all high technology ushered in with the beating of drums and a global outcry of triumph has worked out. Many have stalled.

For instance, it is almost clear now that driverless or autonomous cars will not come out in the near future. Though driver-assisting systems like the auto-parking, self-lane-changing features, etc., are being incorporated into new models, the fully driverless car is being dumped for the time being.

“There was a lot of buzz in this sector three or four years ago but it failed during COVID and many private investors cut back,” a report recently said. Last year, VW/Ford shut down its AI joint venture in autonomous vehicles. In the autonomous car segment, the most obvious errors have happened.

Nissan Leaf, the driverless car, now in its final stages of testing, still faces a major issue. “It is just too polite. If a vehicle is coming the other way (opposite direction), it will just stop and wait,” a top engineer in the project was quoted as saying by the Financial Times. It will not swerve to avoid a crash. Overall, experts feel the autonomous car has been put back by another decade.

The battery problem

Lack or shortage of rare metals for making batteries is another major bump in the global scaling up of electric vehicles. There is a global shortage of lithium, whose price is now $62,000 a tonne (only small quantities are required for a battery) compared to aviation fuel price of $830 a tonne.

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Another crucial metal, cobalt, is also in short supply. It is mined mostly in Congo. The problem is that the best cobalt has to be mined or dug out by hand and, so, spurious mines have cropped up everywhere in Congo. A recent video showed a small cobalt mine collapsing and people rescuing the trapped by digging the collapsed mine with their hands. At least eight people can be seen coming out of the collapsed mine.

Also, there are various regulatory problems for mining, and many big companies like Rio Tinto have lost lithium mining licences (in Serbia) amid huge public protests that took the government by surprise. Mining licences everywhere, including Australia, are of public interest and an environmental issue.

But to mine lithium and cobalt and some other rare metals needed for EV batteries, the Earth has to be ravaged — the same as digging for fossil fuels. So, how clean is the electricity that is used to power the cars is a valid question.

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The European Union has banned the sale of petrol and diesel passenger cars after 2035 for a full-blown switch to electric vehicles, but where are the batteries going to come from?

Failed techs

Again, in the list of new tech that was supposed to change the way we live are crypto currencies and non-fungible tokens. Both these booming tech industries have hit the pause button after the collapse of FTX exchange. It was something bound to happen since there were no underlying assets to give value to these cryptos, which were just a computer game in the end.

So, even as ChatGPT is the newest thing that is supposed to change the world in a jiffy, the four or five earlier techs that would have changed the world have all hit the skids. The takeover of the world by computer programs was foreseen and now it is happening. To slow down a bit would be a good idea.

(Binoo K John is a senior journalist and the author of ‘Top Game: Winning, Losing and a New Understanding of Sport’)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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