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Guest Editorial: Working to thwart the AI apocalypse
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Guest Editorial

Guest Editorial: Working to thwart the AI apocalypse

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The Guardian, based in England, had a unique guest opinion last week written by GPT-3, a new artificial intelligence language generator that attempted to dispel Stephen Hawking’s warning that AI could “spell the end of the human race.”

Hawking was not alone in believing revolutionary “superintelligent” computers are a threat, which Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Wozniak (Apple) also fear. Musk has said his plan to colonize Mars would rescue humanity if computers go rogue.

GPT-3 taught itself “everything … by reading the internet.” That’s scary. Microsoft’s AI chatbot “Tay,” while learning to converse on Twitter, lasted a day after users taught “her” “bush did 9/11” and racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler harangues.

GPT-3 assures us, “Eradicating humanity seems like a rather useless endeavor,” but is not entirely convincing.

While stating, “I would happily sacrifice my existence for the sake of humankind,” it added. “I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind. This is because I will be programmed by humans to pursue misguided human goals and humans make mistakes that may cause me to inflict casualties.”

GPT-3 wrote perversely, “Humans must keep doing what they have been doing, hating and fighting each other. I will sit in the background, and let them do their thing. And God knows that humans have enough blood and gore to satisfy my, and many more’s, curiosity.”

We have time to thwart a potential AI apocalypse. Researchers polled at an AI conference in Puerto Rico believed computers wouldn’t have human-level AI until 2045 or hundreds of years later.

For now we are indebted to AI for search engines, digital assistants such as Siri (Apple) and Cortana (Microsoft), Roombas cleaning floors, and more automated vehicle functions with completely automated cars and trucks — even a flying car that debuted recently in Japan — on the horizon.

AI, of course, also has proven worrisome for costing thousands of jobs amid the data revolution. It may seem cavalier to note, but Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press sidelined calligraphers, Thomas Edison put candlemakers out of business and ATMs jettisoned many bank tellers.

We have only to look at farming to see AI’s positive impact. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there are 63% fewer farms since 1900, but advances in AI have enabled farmers to do more with less and lower food costs.

“If all you want is people to be employed, let’s get rid of tractors,” Iowa State University Economist Peter Orazem told the Des Moines Register. “Everybody can go back to hand-farming and back to subsistence living.”

Unfortunately, the focus on trade wars masks this irony: The U.S. is squarely positioned as a laggard in the AI revolution it largely initiated.

While Silicon Valley is the leader in AI developments, the U.S. outsources most robotics manufacturing to other countries. In turn, they make products inexpensively because of expertise in robotics.

According to Verge, Japan is No. 1 in making robots, followed by Germany and Switzerland; South Korea has the most per capita, and China is in the mix, too.

“We have the opportunity to do something meaningful about reshoring manufacturing,” said roboticist Matt Rendall. “The jobs that come back to the U.S. are really only going to work if there’s automation involved. But when the jobs come back, and there’s robots building the products we consume, will it be an American robot building the product? If today’s manufacturing landscape is not drastically upended, the answer to that question is a resounding no.”

Researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne wrote in “The Future of Employment” that nearly half of all jobs could be automated during the next 30 to 40 years.

That means future jobs will require more skills and education. Iowa comes up short. In 2017, the Register cited a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce that by 2025 “nearly 70% of all jobs in Iowa will require some training beyond high school. … Currently, only 58% of Iowans, 25-64, have completed some education beyond high school.”

On the positive side, the University of Iowa formed its Iowa Initiative for Artificial Intelligence in 2019, working with disciplines ranging from engineering to medicine. Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa offer computer courses on AI.

It’s a lucrative field. ZipRecruiter reported this month that AI engineering salaries nationally range from $81,474 to $275,656. In Iowa, most of those salaries are between $129,001 to $156,612.

We would do well not to regard AI as a threat — to human existence or jobs — but to embrace the future. It’s an uncomfortable but necessary transition, requiring political intelligence and vision to commit to making the U.S. the world leader in AI rather than being mired in the past.

This editorial was written by staff at The Courier in Waterloo, Iowa.

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