opinions · 2022Progressing Towards Dystopia
@jorenrui / November 28, 2022
8 min read
"Making a world a better place" is a line I often hear in a TV series called Silicon Valley. As we are currently in the information age and might be under a new industrial revolution where AR, VR, and AI will take the lead, a lot of how we live as an individual and how society works will keep changing. As a person working in tech, this got me thinking, are we making the world a better place? Or are we creating a dystopia where only a select few gets the biggest portion of the pie?
Workers and the Rise of AI
I remembered what my professor told us back in college, that we should be careful in doing automation. To check whether automating the process benefits and solves the core problem. Because automating a system most likely means people will lose their jobs.
One example of this is the new trends regarding AI. I, for one, am a huge fan of what AI can do from tech like Stable Diffusion to Notion AI. This opens up a lot of doors in boosting productivity and creating content without needing a team. Thinking of its application like creating copywriting and generating assets, it enables creators to iterate faster on their products.
While all this tech is great, we can't dismiss what this means for the people whose jobs are being automated. Before the industry transitioned from manual labor to machines doing the work. Workers then transitioned to operating those machines. But now, creative jobs are being automated by AI. If you think about it, the people who will largely benefit from this are mostly the few upper-class people since they will no longer need the services of those creative workers. What's left to the majority then? Is it desirable to adopt and become an AI Artist? Instead of intentionally and thoughtfully created imperfect human-made art, mass-produced perfect AI-made art will be the mainstream. Is that really what society needs?
I'm all for AI-assisted content where a human is behind an idea. But I'm not sure what to feel about AI doing all the work. Hopefully, we're still on the track where a human behind how the content is made is still needed. But in the future, I'm not quite sure. If AI takes all of our jobs and all that's left are Metaverse jobs like being an NPC, is that the world I would like to live in?
In the end, I think that the imperfection in the work by humans makes it uniquely beautiful and captivating. Mostly because imperfection makes us human. Those imperfections reflect experiences and emotions that no AI can have. Or so we thought.
Another thing worth noting is the data used to train the AI. A lot of artists who didn't opt-in had their works used to train those models. There are some that discuss that it is legal to train models from copyrighted data. Even in code, a class action lawsuit has been filed regarding GitHub's Copilot. Sadly, it's hard to ask for accountability from tech companies that are doing AI data laundering. This brings me the question, is the AI-generated content will mostly be derivative content? If it is and this keeps going, will derivative content lessen creativity due to people becoming more reliant on AI doing the work? Do AIs have the ability to generate new or innovative content? If I think about it, people are inspired by their environment and experiences. Moreover, humans can view the world and recall a memory with filters and self-interpretation like how Vincent Van Gogh painted The Starry Night depicting his view when he is depressed at the asylum But for AIs, can they interpret their ideas when they don't have emotions nor experiences?
If you think about it, AI is great when you want fast-delivered content that will quickly boost your productivity thus increasing one's profits. But art, along with other creative pursuits, is one of the things that makes life more meaningful. It makes life bearable and somewhat enjoyable. Music, poetry, and art are proofs of how humans truly lived their life. So rather than just productivity, I hope that we also focus on enriching how humans live their lives.
Our Data and Social Implications
Another thing that concerns me is the social effects of what we build and how data is becoming the most important asset in the world. One great example is how a social media company, Facebook, has been used to divide society by affecting the elections which can be watched in a documentary called The Great Hack. It's scary to think about how an algorithm can affect and manipulate your behavior and when used on a larger scale, how it can disrupt society. With companies always focusing on growth, a more user-centered design is neglected in favor of profits. An example of this is how they used user data, psychology, and design to keep users on the platform just so they can watch more ads, not thinking whether it is good/healthy for the user or not.
If you look into the feeds in social media like YouTube and Facebook, the content shown is more of content tailored based on your interests and interactions rather than who you're following. This recommendation algorithm can be a huge help when you're seeking worthwhile content that you care about. The flip side to this is that social media may easily become an echo chamber to most. This is dangerous because it can help reinforce wrong beliefs and help in spreading fake news. An example of this is people who became flat earthers because they fell into a deep hole created by YouTube's recommendation algorithm even though there is scientific proof that the earth is not flat. Another example I experienced is how fake news has been used in our country's election to manipulate voters. Sadly, fake news spreads faster than we can fact-check it.
It isn't enough to say that people should think before believing something from the internet. We need to realize that majority of the users are not that educated not by choice. So this begs the question, how can we make users rely more on verified news rather than letting them believe fake news and follow a mindless herd? How do we disincentivize fake news if social media is moving towards recommendation algorithms?
Another thing that is worth thinking about is our data. With it being one of the most important assets in the world, we should strive more for data privacy and rights. When used the wrong way, our data can be used to create a profile about us in bad actors can use to manipulate our behavior so that we will buy/do as they desire. Sadly, one of the drivers in selling users' data is ads related business model. An example of this is Apple becoming an ad company despite privacy claims. If we were to push for more data privacy we should also be preferring to pay for services rather than expecting everything on the internet to be free, especially since servers are not free. As they say, if it is free, then you are the product. Sadly, we can't afford to pay for every service out there.
There's a saying that money is the root of all evil. While money itself isn't really bad because it is just a medium of exchange, misuse of it is. When we prioritize profits over creating sustainable businesses that focus on user-centered design and positive environmental impact, that is the time when money becomes evil. Focusing on profits for the benefit of one means a more unfair life to most. I guess in an ideal world, everyone would strive to create results for the common good over their interests.
Lastly, I believe that innovations that disrupt society shouldn't only rely on the ones at Silicon Valley. Decisions should involve the people that will get affected by it too. Because technology isn't always the best solution to every problem. For now, all we can do is adapt. Progress, like time, will not wait for anyone so there is no choice but to adapt to survive.