The Malta Independent 9 December 2023, Saturday
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ChatGPT ‘is start of something bigger’ AI professors say, but also has potential for misuse

Andrew Izzo Clarke Monday, 30 January 2023, 10:29 Last update: about 11 months ago

ChatGPT, the revolutionary Artificial Intelligence making news around Europe and North America, is the start of something bigger, several professors of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the University of Malta have told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Professors Matthew Montebello, the head of the Department of Artificial Intelligence, Claudia Borg, Alexiei Dingli, and Dylan Seychell all came forward to offer their views about ChatGPT and AI’s role in the future of our society.


We need to differentiate between AI and ChatGPT, some said. “AI is not a single technology but rather a collection of various techniques and approaches, each with its strengths and limitations,“ Dingli said. AI is the general umbrella term, while ChatGPT is just a specific example amongst many others.

ChatGPT is a general language processing model that can be used “for natural language processing tasks such as text generation, summarisation and language translation,” according to the ChatGPT explanation page. In its present state, it consists of a prompt bar into which one can type questions and receive answers within seconds, on all manner of topics.

So what are the potential uses of ChatGPT?

“AI is revolutionizing the way we live, play, work and socialize,” says Montebello, so this is not an entirely new force that we’re reckoning with. A steady stream of apps, devices, and technologies have been flowing into our daily lives for years and ChatGPT is no different.

According to Claudia Borg, as ChatGPT stands today, it has the potential to unleash new levels of creativity, as “artistic creators might use it to augment their ideas and facilitate thought processes.”

Alexiei Dingli says that it can “revolutionise the field of natural language processing” which could lead to the “development of more advanced and intuitive AI-powered applications, such as chatbots, virtual assistants, and language translators.” Furthermore, ChatGPT could change the field of content creation. “This could have a significant impact on the media and advertising industries, as well as on the way information is disseminated to the public,” said Dingli.

According to a document called ‘Malta: the Ultimate AI Launchpad’ issued by the Parliamentary Secretariat for Financial Services, Digital Economy, and Innovation back in 2019, outlining Malta’s vision for AI implementation, there are numerous ways these emerging technologies will help accelerate the coming into being of Malta’s future. AI (not merely ChatGPT) will be able to enhance museum and tourist experiences, optimise traffic flows, digitise government functions, personalise education to individuals’ needs, and more, it read. Those businesses that have been able to leverage AI have managed to “improve efficiency, reduce costs, and gain a competitive advantage” vis a vis others who have not yet managed to do so, added Dingli.

But there are, as with any new technologies, potential downfalls too. One major problem concerns the economic displacement among those whose jobs are liable to be automated, although it might be “premature to make such claims,” says Seychell. While some tout Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a necessary tool to deal with the potential economic woes, Seychell advises a restructuring of the education system, which will lead to economic growth and, perhaps, the eventual financing of a UBI system. ChatGPT represents a challenge that can enable us “to grow and overcome obstacles that traditionally were our limitations as a small island nation,” Seychell said.

Aside from the restructuring of the education system, Borg says that if we are to implement a UBI system, then this must be “accompanied by a broader sense of social equity and cannot be separated from other pressing problems such as climate change.”  

Another problem arises from this technology’s ability to “generate human-like text” which could lead to the “the spread of misinformation, the creation of fake news, and the personification of individuals,” Dingli says. Borg is largely in agreement with this sentiment, as she states that this aspect of ChatGPT can “impact the democracy of a society” in negative ways, necessitating legislative intervention to curb this threat. 

As discussed in other publications, ChatGPT can be used to write standard yet relatively complex articles and essays, leading to the worry among those in educational establishments that students will come to over-rely on this technology, perhaps resulting in the loss of their critical reasoning capacities.

In addition, AI technologies haven’t been adopted unilaterally across the board. Prohibitive high costs, lack of knowledge and data, and the sheer complexity of trying to maintain such technologies entail that small and medium Enterprises (SMEs) will find it hard to jump on the AI bandwagon, Dingli said.

It might be hyperbolic to claim that ChatGPT will change society and Dingli advises a slightly more cautious approach: “[ChatGPT] can be used to automate specific tasks, such as writing or customer service, [but] is not capable of changing society on its own.” However, he said, “ChatGPT is the start of something bigger, and in the coming months, we’ll see more profound innovations being released.” 

Seychell was largely in agreement with this sentiment: “This change will, and is, happening, and we can’t stop it. Resisting this is not worthwhile, and it should be embraced.”

Borg, in response to questions about whether AI and ChatGPT are overhyped, said she didn’t believe them to be. “We have experienced drastic changes already over the last 20 years in the way we communicate and share our information. Changes will continue to happen at an accelerated pace,” she said, although added that “we cannot isolate ChatGPT as being the single disruptive technology that will turn our society upside down.”

Montebello said, in a similar vein, that “ChatGPT made it explicitly obvious how AI will disrupt our normality,” before adding that it has also “generated undesired hype especially to the research community as the lay person and society at large will start questioning and doubting the intentions of AI in general.”


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