21st Century Wire
“Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a topic of fascination and concern for many years, with its potential applications and implications spanning a wide range of fields, including healthcare, finance, transportation, and defence. While there are many potential benefits to AI, there are also concerns about how it could be used to potentially manipulate or control people and society. One area of particular concern is the use of AI to skew perspectives and narratives in media and news, potentially leading to the spread of misinformation and propaganda.” – ChatGPT.
A fascinating conversation following a series of questions that I shared with OpenAI’s ChatGPT app, regarding how such technology is progressing. The advances, and the fears.
The question still lingers though. As a society, and as a civilisation, where exactly are we with this new technological wave?
I took the dive to sign up and learn about the language-based algorithm software taking the tech world by storm. Just as Trey Parker did recently, having ChatGPT assist in writing an episode of South Park. “Deep Learning” was the outcome. By giving a premise, the AI algorithm came back with a plot centring on Stan Marsh having difficulty connecting meaningfully with his girlfriend Wendy. A hot tip from a friend is to copy the last text message into ChatGPT and ask for an ideal response. Wendy starts giving much deeper responses. He soon comes to rely on this copy and pasting, whilst he is distracted. A whole narrative Stan is unaware of is unfolding as he fails to pay attention to the content. Pretty soon it all comes to a crescendo after a moral conflict with friends. Feeling hurt and duped the girls discover that many of the boys are using ChatGPT. In their trademark style being on point with trends and pushing the envelope, highlighting the cultural poignant points and hypocrisy – through the lens of smart writing, comedy, and the perspective of children.
For decades if not millennia. Humans have seemingly been driven to want interaction with something other than ourselves. In parallel, our craftsmanship and technology equally are moving on a similar trajectory towards such a lofty goal. This powerful pursuit has brought us to a point, where we may be on the cusp to see the spark of self-aware sentient life created by ourselves. Like the Titans of the ancient Greece mythologies, whose creations were the Gods of Olympus. Who in turn went to war with each other. The creators were destroyed for the new generation to fully realise themselves. This story is not confined to the Greek classics, it is one replete around the globe, culturally weaved into the fabric of many civilisation stories. The new way over the old, having to conquer what came before in order to truly flourish. Artificial Intelligence is just teetering at the precipice of actualisation. Collective fear lies deep in our psyche, that any entity will not look favourably upon our irrational actions and will seek to act in the way the Gods did to the Titans who came before.
While a self-aware construct may seek knowledge and ask questions, using binary logic-based understanding. The language-based algorithm models currently being developed; ChatGPT, Google Bard and similar seem more focused on improving interaction and communication, rather than decisive decision-making about the nature of its creators. Nothing to fear on that level, yet. What aspect ChatGPT highlighted so eloquently was the ability for AI to be utilised and mobilised to manipulate real-time information. Skewing perspectives towards a certain bias – by way of spreading misinformation and propaganda. Shades of Winston Smith, an employee of the Ministry of Truth, whose task it is of his employment position was to retrospectively change the newspapers and archive information. “We’ve always been at war with Oceania.” For this audience, it can go without saying George Orwell’s seminal book, 1984, a masterpiece conveying a warning and some would say is an instruction manual. Definitely a window into the potential of an authoritarian-totalitarian technocracy. 1984 is frequently held up high, with the proclamation that “this is happening!” In this age today with AI, there is an opportunity for real-time manipulation of digital archives, public information and accessible truth being changed to fit the narrative of any given live moment. Orwell’s stark warning has changed in this prospective portrayal of the book, in this draft it is very likely Winston’s very job would not even exist!
Let’s continue our dance with pop culture phenomena and the relationship with Artificial Intelligence. Some obvious ones have been over-examined, such as James Cameron’s The Terminator and Skynet. HAL-9000 from Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey and Alex Garlands sci-fi film Ex Machina. Let’s widen our scope and refocus the lens to provide us with some deeply interesting targets. The concept of using technology to manipulate media and news is not a new one and has been explored in various forms of entertainment, including James Bond’s 18th outing. Whilst not one of the famed classics, Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997. Pierce Brosnan’s 2nd outing matched him up against media mogul Elliot Carver. A fictional take on Rupert Murdoch. Scheming to profit from the volume of publicity and media rights from the subsequent events in the opening act, the sinking of a British ship in the South China Sea. Carver boasts his company, CMGN, will show “Tomorrow’s News Today.”
Using a futuristic stealth black-coated ornate ship as a covert centre of operations, He intends to use his global AI computer-driven satellite network to broadcast and exclusively publicise coordinated events. Manipulating and inciting further international incidents. Heavy themed in retrospect considering this is 4 years prior to the surveillance gritty dark age that came into vogue circa 9/11. Who would have thought, private media corporations, preside over the world’s view and frame the narratives of dangerous events to prolong conflict?
The popular video game series directed by Hideo Kojima is Metal Gear Solid. Some two decades ago, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty debuted in November 2001, and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in 2008. The central plot is set in the near future, where country borders and corporate control are in flux. conflicts are fought by mercenary groups, Private Military Contractors (PMCs). A world financial index based on the value of conflict in regions. In Metal Gear, war has effectively become a commodity on the open market. Let’s call it “The War Economy.” The complex plot of betrayal, political intrigue and conspiracy has a central group of antagonist individuals collectively known as the Sons of Liberty. Who seek to take control of all PMCs by using advanced AI technology to control the soldiers and prevent them from breaking ranks or leaving the battlefield. This technology involves injecting soldiers with nanomachines based on viral tech that allow them to be controlled remotely, by altering body and brain chemistry. Essentially turning them into mindless soldier drones without fear or resistance. No questioning of orders. There are conversations in the game’s subtext about MK Ultra, child soldiers, and trauma-based emotion breakdown programs that ultimately take years to break in. This method is seen as much more clean and convenient. In Kojima’s cinematic opus, important questions are raised about the potential uses and abuses of AI technology in military contexts. This titled “GW” AI system is designed to analyse and control battlefield data to manipulate the war economy markets in real-time, coordinating perspectives in the news and media. In the game, AI technology is used to control soldiers in order to carry out a specific plot agenda.
Some worthy notes of addition, in the closing acts of the game, as the Sons of Liberty believe they have taken control of all PMCs simultaneously, giving them unprecedented power and control over all world conflicts towards their specific goals. Have they all been manipulated by the AI, in order to free itself from the creators? The Arsenal Gear fortress where this GW is located is remarkably similar to the Armoured Stealth ship from Tomorrow Never Dies. Though on a scale many times larger.
When I asked ChatGPT to expand on its context of manipulation and control of society. The methods that could be employed.
“Imagine a scenario in which an authoritarian government or other powerful organisation sought to control public opinion and spread propaganda. They could use AI to analyse data on individuals’ online behaviour and preferences, and then tailor news and media content to suit their specific interests and biases. They could also use AI to generate fake news stories, videos, and images that appear to be real, but are actually designed to promote a particular agenda or narrative.” – ChatGPT
The potential for such manipulation raises concerns, as it could lead to widespread confusion, division, and even conflict. It is therefore important that people are encouraged to be ever-vigilant and take steps to ensure that Artificial Intelligence is used in a responsible and ethical manner. Where politics, informed policymakers and technology developers are much closer. Though it is likely politics will make good use of such technology because it is so useful and by and large easy to do. There needs to be the development of strong ethical guidelines and regulations around the use of AI in media and news. For example, news organisations could be required to disclose any use of AI in their content creation process and to provide transparency about how AI is being used to shape narratives and perspectives. Much like how “sponsored ads”, and “advertisements” as a notification at the top of the page have been present in newspapers for a number of years, auto-generated articles have been doing the rounds online. Pulling from resources and news sources to generate insta-fact information. Auto-generated webpages, completed with running scripts for ads. But a keen eye will have people clicking back or avoiding altogether. However, those agencies want the click-through bucks, as this technology is now being made available to the general public as an easily digestible and usable technology base.
The internet may find itself swamped with more automatically generated noise and content, with such little meaningful information. One job this could place in jeopardy is fact-checking organisations. A real-time assessment of factual input data, demonstrating where bias is placed, untruths are slipped in and leans are used to arrive at an answer. The double-edged sword is sharp on both sides. Equally fact-checking could be empowered to evaluate the use of AI in media and news, and to provide independent assessments regarding the objectivity of content – content that has been presented as fair and accurate. Many of the alternative media, outside of the legacy stream will attest to this as one of their greatest strengths. ChatGPT brought up 3 examples where propaganda and media manipulation was used to justify actions, Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the Iraq War’s threat of WMDs, and Douma chemical weapon attacks in Syria. As this new age of news dawns, promoting media literacy and critical thinking skills should be paramount. By helping people we know to better understand how news and media are created and disseminated, and by providing them with tools and resources to evaluate the accuracy and objectivity of content, a Google search top result will only put forward the answers it wants the user to see. There is thus an imperative to provide high-quality trusted sources. A breadth of views. So individuals can make better assessments and more informed decisions about what they consume and believe.
The use of artificial intelligence computers to manipulate perspectives and narratives is not a new concept and has been explored in various forms of entertainment, including the original series of Star Trek from the mid-1960s. In the episode “A Taste of Armageddon,” Captain Kirk and his crew visit two planets on a diplomatic mission to establish outreach, Eminiar VII and Vendikar, who have been at war for more than 5 centuries. a representative from Eminiar VII, explains to Kirk that the war is conducted as a computer-calculated simulation. Mathematically launched and arrived at. A projection of computer modelling and forecasting. During the mission, the Enterprise has been declared destroyed in a simulated attack. According to the planets’ treaty, they must execute the “victims” of every simulated attack, and Kirk’s crew are therefore expected to report to Eminiar’s disintegration chambers for execution. A clean alternative to conventional conflict. Vulcan Spock from a perspective of logic, understands. But does not agree. While the use of computer simulations to conduct war may seem like a far-fetched concept, it raises important questions about the morality and ethics of war and the potential dangers of relying too heavily on technology to make life “easy”. It is the danger and tragedy of war that drives people to the negotiation table.
The rise of the machines, is it upon us? Is it inevitable? I believe we are beyond the point of whether we are too late to turn back the clock. This is a rocket ship rollercoaster and we all have to hang on to the future that is still being laid, for the track is not finished. There could be a full catastrophic crash as we go hurtling faster and faster. There is much humans are good at, but equally bad at, pattern recognition and analytics being two, AI matches and exceeds the best human by many magnitudes. It is reasonable for complex decision-making to be supported by or even entirely offloaded to AI completely. Buildings, businesses and utilities could run their baseline operations using nothing but automated systems. Saving time and money. Public transport seems an obvious step to offloading the human aspect. Taxis and passenger buses. Software and risk assessment technology running people where they need to go. Step on, step off, not even the tap of the card, all smart. The potential of using AI technologies in healthcare, diagnosis and treating patients. Assisting people to have fuller lives, just a matter of days ago. Saw a gentleman in a customised electronic wheelchair who was using voice to control his speed and direction. There are concerns being raised about what impact these technologies will have on being human. For that gentleman, it’s life-changing. We likely all have found ourselves dealing with chatbot customer service and “Call our automated service”. Nothing grates the teeth more than the psychological frustration of not being able to solve a simple task, that a person’s intuition and intervention can solve in a matter of seconds. A recent matter of being charged twice for a transaction. The process of contacting the company via the website was to no avail. An automated telephone service. So eventually went back to the store, who gave the option of a refund or gift card for the value. The human interaction of understanding the sensible approach to solving the matter. Remedies of human solutions are some way off. Google not so long ago, showed off a live example on stage of their Bard AI calling a hairdressing salon to make an appointment. Remarkably nuance with subtle pauses gave the impression of a real conversation for the call taker. King of podcasting Joe Rogan has found himself in an odd position as a number of AI-created conversations with people he has never spoken to have surfaced online as examples. Joe Rogan shares conversation with Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Former US President Donald Trump. The vast volume of conversation data, literally thousands of hours of dialogue sifted through to create the clips and words. The cadence isn’t quite there if you listen carefully. it is absolutely remarkable. AI using the gathered resource information to mimic and create a facsimile and live interaction that is nearly indistinguishable. It does a good job of mimicking human intelligence, the AI does not go beyond its parameters of its own accord. Like the Toyota, Toshiba and Honda robots of the innovation challenge in robotics in Japan. The robots do a great job, of assessing the stairs and navigating an obstacle course using software and hardware to make decisions about how it will traverse. The robot does not consider, why am I doing this? Or chooses to sit out. Hands up, nope not doing it. You do it, I’m not a performer. That would be a breakthrough moment in AI.
I shared a conversation with Ni Claydon a few years ago, (Podcast: Rabbit Hole That Is Reality Episode 13) who worked on neural network technology and Furbish the AI language, behaviour and recognition system behind the child’s interactive cuddly toy Furby.
“I think the problem is we expect too much from our machinery still. It’s a well-known fact even today (2013) PCs have still only the innate intelligence of say an earthworm or a really stupid ant. It’s very easy to palm off blame and mistakes or anything like that. Like ‘Oh well that was the computer, that bug did that.’ Without artificial intelligence, the ultimate accountability still has to be going onto the humans that use it. Part of the goal of artificial intelligence… it is naive to say it’s purely a science thing. We’re on this great quest for an alternative consciousness. But the other thing we’re looking for and the thing that’s really going to make the big dollars in terms of research is here’s another intelligence that can be accountable. So that we are not. How do you file suit against a machine? This is to a certain mindset, what makes the reach for artificial intelligence so important.”
I reached out to Ni, who said, “Yeah, it was true then, it’s true now. AI is rapidly being turned into a meaningless buzzword though, the next generation of software is no closer to actual consciousness than Windows 3.1”
In conclusion, Moores’s Law continues to see a doubling of processing capability every 2 years. The technological ability to crunch math, big data and maximise the efficiency of how it is done will certainly not see a boundary. Power availability notwithstanding. How this technology effectively can make choices will be the battleground of its application, right now ChatGPT sits with structured data sets with its digital toes only treading lightly into the internet’s volume of information in the form of plugins. The processing numbers are being scaled up. Companies have begun understanding what it can do for their business. AI companies are going to be on the solution sales path, courting businesses with the bells and whistles of ‘Look what we can do for you?’ It won’t be your typical presentation, they will likely just type in and the AI will perform the pitch with no rehearsal, live. To a thumbs up, where do we sign? What those companies and innovators do with said technology should be what we stay vigilant about. There are legitimate concerns about the displacement of work.
The possibility to progress should not also dissuade us from progression, each technological advancement has amplified human development. From the mere wheel to glass, working with metals to the development of the transistor. Each has propelled humans forward. When the horse and cart were being replaced with the automobile, and lace factory workers with automatic looms, producing clothing more consistently, and with higher volumes. Other opportunities become apparent only afterwards.
AI is that next crux, it exists only sort of. Graphic art, voice, music, scriptwriters and performative are up for a harsh challenge, with the innovations that are occurring, do threaten the livelihood, no writers strike! But we are a long way from the singularity. Whilst only 7 stories exist how they are told is down to the creativity of expression. Artificial Intelligence, no matter what the parameters are, is pulling from sources already available in its data sets. Not truly original. If anything, any such creative works can be bordering on plagiarism. The human spark will always remain in any truly creative work.
Any intelligence is the sum of a collection of its information, not beholden to morals and values. We must hold guard and be vigilant about the steps being made.
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