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NEO-LUDDITES AND THE AI THREAT

Once upon a time, before the digital age, people were suspicious of new technological developments. Humans are often leery of what is new, preferring to settle for the “tried and true.” Recent developments are lending credence to this traditional cautionary stance, and there is a rise in what can be called “Neo-Luddites” as a result.

Luddite is a term that describes people who are opposed to new technology; they are said to prefer the “old ways.” The name came from something that happened in England during the period of 1811-16 when workers destroyed machinery in cotton and woolen mills they thought would threaten their jobs. The machinery was more productive and efficient than they were and, because of that, they sabotaged the machines by using hammers and axes. The leader of the Luddites was Edward (“Ned”) Ludd, who called himself “General Ludd.”

A contemporary group that might be considered quasi-Luddites is the Amish people, who still use horses and buggies and live in a way reminiscent of an earlier way of life. They, however, use technology in a very selective manner.

Today, another trend toward Luddite behavior is being generated by the looming threat of Artificial Intelligence (AI). One of the main innovators in the field of AI is Elon Musk, who is doing incredible things with new technology. His Neurolink project is actually working to link human brains to technology, and he is pioneering self-driving Tesla automobiles. This is one step toward the manifestation of the “singularity” predicted by Ray Kurzweil who says computers will routinely pass the “Turing test” by 2029, wherein we won’t be able to tell the difference between a computer and a human being.

Elon Musk, though an AI pioneer, has repeatedly sounded an alarm about the threats posed by AI. He posits that there is a very real possibility that machines will take over society, becoming more intelligent than human beings.

This idea brings to mind the “Terminator” movies, wherein the future finds humanity dominated by intelligent machines that are waging a prolonged war against them. Musk and his cohorts are very, very serious about the possibility of that actually happening. He believes there is a danger of machines becoming far more intelligent than the people who have created them.

Recently, new developments are revealing the plausibility of this scenario, and we are rushing headlong into the unknown in this regard. One of the developments causing a great deal of concern is technical devices that can use prompts to create astonishing art within minutes. The art world is in a tizzy because of this, and it is threatening the livelihood of many of them, or so they think.

Platforms like MidJourney, for instance, can create art, often better than that created by humans, by being given a few sentences. It can enable non-artists to create art that rivals work done by professionals.

Because of this, some commercial artists are actually behaving as Neo-Luddites. Instead of destroying the machines, however, they are using litigation to weaponize copyright issues, since the AI must be “taught” by using existing art in order to build their repertoire. The Neo-Luddites are also using propaganda to discourage the use of AI.

Another example of the encroachment of AI on human workers is a chatbot called ChatGPT, which is already on version 4.0. It is developed by Open AI and can create anything that is described by being given a few prompts. It can compose poetry, write articles on any topic and do research. In short, it is a tool that can challenge the way school assignments are completed and thus change the face of education.

Additionally, AI can be used to impersonate people; it can duplicate a person’s voice and it can compromise security. In fact, there seems to be no limit as to what it can accomplish, and the frightening thing is that it is evolving at an accelerated rate!

History has shown that progress can’t be thwarted; because of the incredible manner in which AI can increase the efficiency of human output, it won’t disappear anytime soon. We must, therefore, view it as a tool while developing new ways of interfacing with it. We must turn our fears into strategies that will work for us. This is possible because, at least now, the machines require human input in order to create output. Admittedly, there may come a time when they are able to surpass that obstacle, but until then, we must find a creative way to live with this new threat because it’s here to stay. A Luta Continua.

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