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Andrew E Hall looks at the world sideways and enters the realm of bots and bytes to deconstruct the hype surrounding the role of Artificial Intelligence in the human milieu.

Look at the world sideways. Your peripheral vision will serve you well in knowing what’s coming.

In a down-the-barrel view we can be persuaded that scantily clad bodies and arbitrary innovation are a form of salvation. That image-making and the illusion/allusion of sentience can combine in a climactic evolution of consciousness. That a belligerent nudist is somehow spiritually enhanced by draping herself upon a 700-year-old temple tree in Tabanan convinced that abstract algorithms will coalesce to catapult her into the catatonic phantasmagoria of influencer heaven.

Look at the world sideways lest you be shredded by a shirtless digital nomad on a scooter in Kuta, or Canggu, or some pointless pilates practitioner on Jalan Hanuman in Ubud.

Cast a sneaky side-eye at conglomerates whose advertising budgets have been alleviated by AI machinations that coerce human collateral into conforming to what sociologist Max Weber might refer to as “ideal types” which, he said:  “…are formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasised viewpoints into a unified analytical construct.”

Long story short, Max (who popped his clogs in 1920) might be intrigued that the “unified analytical construct” actually exists in vast data troves compiled by diligent coders and their bots let loose to feed on the ephemera of human history. In titanic tranches of behavioural data collected from people by corporations whose promises of tech-based Utopias entice the ill-prepared to reveal themselves in the most intimate ways.

That plaintiff cry you might hear on the edge of sleep is George Orwell’s ghost protesting, “I tried to warn you…”

Do you wonder that the OpenAI organisation – creator of current AI craze, ChatGPT – which was co-founded by bastions of integrity and accountability Elon Musk and Sam Altman, has the Microsoft behemoth as its most lucrative funding source (allegedly around US$10 billion) and assessment facility?

…and I believe these are the days of lasers in the jungle. Lasers in the jungle somewhere. Staccato signals of constant information. A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and baby…

– Paul Simon, “Boy in the Bubble”.

Look at the world sideways.

WTF is artificial intelligence?

I’m moved to motion in the direction of Donald Trump (Agent Orange) and Boris Johnson (The Convict) and Mark Zuckerberg (The Alien) and Gwyneth Paltrow (whatever she is). But that would be petty. And attract opprobrium from their barely literate onanist tribes that rely upon predictive text in their retrograde Twitterversalist ranting.

Those in the know posit that the ancestry of AI can be traced to Alan Turing – an English polymath who formalised the concept of computing technology. During World War II, he developed a machine, based on binary coding, that enabled the British secret services and military to decode encrypted messages sent – by way of a fiendishly clever device called Enigma – by the Nazi (and their allied) commanders to maritime, and other martial, assets. It can be argued that Turing’s disruptive technology played an integral part in winning the war for the good guys.

Did Turing get to cash in on his cathartic brainstorming? Did he accumulate billions of bucks and a very big boat? No, Alan Turing was chemically castrated after the war in a compromise with the English legal apparatus that kept him out of gaol for being homosexual. He continued his forays into bonding the application/s of computing technology with the advancement of the human project. He died – by suicide, according to the coroner – in 1954, 16 days shy of his 42nd birthday. Ironically, he was pardoned for his “sins” in 2013 by Queen Elizabeth II, who proffered a posthumous Order of the British Empire medal upon his memory…in a gross perversion of the notion of “grace and favour”.

In 1947, Alan Turing spoke about the nature of his complex contemplations: “I believe that at the end of the [20th] century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted”.

In 1996 IBM’s Big Blue defeated world chess champion Gary Kasparov in the first game of a six-game tournament, in which Kasparov ultimately triumphed. In a 1997 rematch, Big Blue won, narrowly. Writing in 2018, Kasparov said: “When I lost the rematch, it was hailed by many as a momentous occasion for human progress on par with the Moon landing. I didn’t feel so enthusiastic about it myself, but I realized that while the era of intelligent machines was ending in chess, it was only getting started in every other aspect of our lives”.

Here’s the thing, though: Big Blue was the culmination of the efforts hundreds of programmers, tonnes of equipment, a power supply that could electrify a small town, and millions upon millions of dollars…not to mention a massive carbon footprint. Gary Kasparov – a carbon-based lifeform fuelled, by his own admission, by a diet of salmon and lots of green veg – rocked up alone, ready for a Homeric conflagration with the harbingers of human futures.

…and then Gary experiences a full body short-circuit in his 2018 jottings: “This type of AI doesn’t care why something works, as long as it works. These machines even teach themselves better ways to learn, effectively coding themselves iteratively. Think about all the new ways of solving problems based on objective results instead of centuries of accumulated human dogma. This is a brave new world, one in which machines are doing things humans do not know how to teach them to do, one in which machines figure out the rules – and, if we are lucky, explain them to us”.

Spooky! Have you ever read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? It doesn’t end well for humanity.. reminiscent of a higher being whispering, “checkmate”.

A grand kerfuffle, or much ado about nothing?

I am reluctant to invoke a chimera of the venerable William Shakespeare – I am not worthy – but Google has; calling its updated search engine “Bard”, which incorporates some magical realism features of OpenAI programming. For those of you unfamiliar with works of the Bard, his classic script Macbeth (circa the year 1606) might guide you on how truly fucked up things can become. Shakespeare introduces a group of disruptors whose stirrings are accompanied by the tagline: “Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble”. Most of the influencers in his narrative come to sticky end. May there be more of that …

Sorry, I digress.

Don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much over the (relatively recent) abundance of AI stories and commentary in all forms of media. Looking at the world sideways, I get a sneaking suspicion that something is afoot – something that will accrue vast sums of money to an already-obscenely-wealthy few…just saying.

The saturation coverage reminds me of the “Rolling Thunder” metaphor for the American bombing campaign over North Vietnam and Cambodia in the early 1970s, where aerial squadrons flew so high that people on the ground heard nothing until things went boom.

There’re the panicked voices of vendors of higher education about students using ChatGPT to write their essays and theses. Trouble is – apart from the lazy credentialism of anyone who would do such a thing – ChatGPT doesn’t provide the requisite referencing rigor required by any self-respecting tertiary institution.

I once busted one of my university journalism students for plagiarism, without the aid of the purported AI antidote for GPT-4 cheat-sheets; Turnitin (and others with better names). How? Because I know my stuff and established the parameters of the conversations being assessed. I wasn’t motivated by enforcing my world view, but by a validated demonstration of critical thinking. It must be said, however, that the student in question went on to secure a lucrative position with a large media organisation…

In April this year, German artist Boris Eldagsen won a Sony world photography awards prize in the creative open category, for a sepia portrait of two women, which he admitted – in his application paperwork – was generated by an AI program. In a statement on his website, Eldagsen – who has accumulated an impressive range of qualifications from prestigious institutions – said he “applied as a cheeky monkey” to find out if competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. “They are not,” he concluded.

Go figure…and if you’ve seen Eldagsen’s image, you wouldn’t be off-piste to wonder if the Sony judges were collectively afflicted by macular degeneration. The judges reckoned the award – which Eldagsen quickly refused – was justified because the artist had defined the parameters he fed into the AI program.

As I compose, Writers Guild of America members – who are the backbone of US production companies’ scriptwriting – are on strike because they want an assurance from TV and streaming studio heavyweights that writers’ jobs will not be whittled by a transition to AI-generated programming and content creation. Last time they withdrew their labour (2007-8), the strike lasted 100 days before the industry folded. This time, I’m not sure that multi-billion-dollar entertainment studio executives will accede to the demands of creative humans. Solidarity, comrades!


Doom scrolling

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executives…and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

Sounds familiar, social media acolytes?

According to a Guardian newspapers article in May this year: “The man often touted as the godfather of AI has quit Google, citing concerns over the ?ood of fake information, videos and photos online and the possibility for AI to upend the job market. Dr Geo?rey Hinton, who with two of his students at the University of Toronto built a neural net in 2012, quit Google this week… Hinton said he quit to speak freely about the dangers of AI, and in part regrets his contribution to the ?eld.”

Some of the dangers of AI chatbots were “quite scary”, he told the BBC, warning they could become more intelligent than humans and could be exploited by “bad actors”.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the kind of intelligence we’re developing is very different from the intelligence we have. So, it’s as if you had 10,000 people and whenever one person learned something, everybody automatically knew it. And that’s how these chatbots can know so much more than any one person.”

Hinton says his concern in the short-term is something that has already become a reality – people will not be able to discern what is true anymore, with AI-generated photos, videos and text flooding the internet. Some pundits, however, posit that Hinton is merely making a play for the monstrously lucrative international speaking circuit.

And so, we cycle back to the Musk Rat.

In a CNN interview in April, Elon Musk warned that artificial intelligence could lead to civilization destruction, even as he remains deeply involved in the growth of AI through his many companies. “AI is more dangerous than, say, mismanaged aircraft design or production maintenance or bad car production, in the sense that it is, it has the potential – however small one may regard that probability, but it is non-trivial – it has the potential of civilization destruction,” Musk said.

His company, Tesla, for example, relies so much on artificial intelligence that it hosts an annual AI day to tout its work. Musk was a founding member of OpenAI, albeit he has said the evolution of OpenAI is “not what I intended at all”.

Musk has repeatedly warned of the dangers of AI, amid a proliferation of AI products for general consumer use, including from tech giants like Google and Microsoft. Musk joined a group of other tech leaders in signing an open letter calling for a six-month pause in the “out of control” race for AI development…to curtail competition?

He said he supports government regulation into AI, even though “it’s not fun to be regulated”. Once AI “may be in control”, it could be too late to regulate the AI industry.

Thanks a lot, hypocritical fuckwit.

A little bird told me

A small black and white bird – chitt-chitty in the Australian Whadjuk Noongar people’s language – whose ancestry dates back, at least, 70,000 years – arrives, in keeping with her morning ritual, and alights on my outstretched palm to claim a mealworm, which it batters briefly on the courtyard paving before gulping it down. Not good for the worm but great for the chitt-chitty that will soon be building her nest and rearing her young ones.

Whadjuk Noongar people are wary of chitt-chitty because according to their lore this delightful, dextrous, and brave little bird harvests living secrets, and broadcasts them to the spirit world with its cheeky chirping and mellifluous warbling.

Akin, maybe, to the way web-based platforms suck up terabytes and more (in the absence of any functional quantum networks) of your binary codes and sells them to the highest bidder. More enigmatic, perhaps, the little bird… more malicious, certainly, surveillance capitalism and its sociopath attendants.

I feel the sunlight and the breeze on my skin; I cast an expansive glance towards three 150-plus-year-old oak trees that precede the view to a river that flows in lugubrious luxury with colours that vary according to ambient refraction and reflection. A river, according to Whadjuk Noongar people, created on their Country by a Dreamtime rainbow serpent called Waargle.

The chitt-chitty (known in English as a willie wagtail) hops into our home…harvesting my secrets.

But I’m on a mission to test ChatGPT, with a request to write a short paragraph about chitt-chitty. In no time at all, the bot responds: “The willie wagtail is a small, active bird found throughout much of Australia and nearby islands. It is known for its distinctive tail-wagging behaviour and its loud, musical song. Despite its small size, the willie wagtail is a fearless defender of its territory and will attack much larger birds that come too close to its nest. In Aboriginal mythology, the willie wagtail is often depicted as a mischievous and clever bird and is associated with stories of creation and transformation.”

* Andrew E. Hall is a former journalist, academic, and business manager and magazine editor in Indonesia, and communications adviser to the vice-chancellor of an Australian university.

* Andrew acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Country upon which he writes – Whadjuk Noongar Boodja – their Elders past, present and emerging.