The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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The pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence

Sunday, 5 May 2024, 08:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

As the world gets increasingly excited by the day on the limitless user possibilities of AI, there might come a time in the not too distant future when humans will adopt a different attitude towards it and other related computer systems, with many perceiving them as outright evil and anti-human. Written by Anthony Zarb Dimech

The rapid rate of change in Information Technology (IT) and Digital Technology is taking the world, including Malta, by storm. Hardly a day passes when we do not hear of some new buzzword that IT experts coin up. Of recent, one can mention ChatGPT, which was developed by Open AI and DALL-E, which uses AI to create images from text prompts.

While acknowledging the benefits of AI, this feature does not adopt an anti-AI stance but in essence, a pro-human and cautious approach, exploring threats to the "traditional" functioning and learning systems of the human brain and how humans can potentially "sell their souls" to computer systems.


The perrenial question that arises is: are we just looking at the pros of AI and forgetting the cons that could dramatically prejudice and outweigh benefits? Humans should be wise not to allow AI to outsmart them and render the human brain as inferior or obsolete, keeping in mind the proverbial maxim, "not all that glitters is gold" in the face of the hype that these computer systems are creating.



The over-excitment produced by the unlimited possibilites that this new technology offers is justified. One of the latest possibilities in ChatGPT 4 is in the field of ophthalmology where AI could be used to triage patients with eye problems. ChatGPT 4 was found to be as good as expert clincians in processing eye symptoms and decide on urgent cases that need to be seen by specialists, according to Dr Arun Thirunavukarasu, who studied at the University of Cambridge. Such iniatives should undoubtedly be encouraged and commended.


Threats and laziness of the mind

One potential threat to the human brain and other mental faculties is that humans will become too lazy and machine-dependable. Machines will have the power to be able to do all the thinking, memorising and creative work that was traditionally done by the human mind.

Some countries are noticing this adverse effect and are already taking action. One country that is attempting digital de-escalation is Sweden. Sweden is pushing to remove screens from classrooms because of poor student performance.

Other countries implementing technology control in classrooms are Holland and New Zealand, which are increasingly believing that technology should be used in moderation, opting for a hybrid education, as they put on the brakes on the progressive total digitisation of education.

Another justified fear is that robotics in the future will be given so much autonomy, power and control that humans will put their trust in them to the extent of side-lining the human aspects of human interaction and touch. Another question that comes to mind is whether anybody has considered the possibility of a major technical breakdown where these systems can turn against the very humans that created them?

We, as humans, should never forget that we are the masters and not them. Another fear of many workers is that hundreds of millions of jobs will be lost through AI. As the power of AI increases, it would go beyond human mental faculties and humans will be left behind.

Another concern being raised by AI are AI-generated Deepfake. Deepfake AI is used to create convincing images, audio and video hoaxes resulting in bogus content. These media can spread false information, especially during times of elections, where they can be a source of meddling in elections and election propaganda.


Transhumanism and Eugenics

Transhumanism is also another aspect that needs consideration. Transhumanism has been defined as the need to push beyond and transcend our physical human limitations to become upgraded, augmented and even immortal beings, replacing our limbs with robotics and our minds with AI.  

Transhuman Citizen: Zoltan Istavan's Hunt for Immortality by Ben Murnane, is the story of the transhumanism movement that wants to merge humans with machines and make them immortal. Zoltan Istaven is an American transhumanist, journalist, entrepreneur, political candidate and futurist. He ran for president of the United States in 2019 and 2020. His presidential campaign was to teach people about the new frontiers of science where death is not inevitable.

Let us not forget that transhumanism knows its roots in Eugenics where genetic manipulation yields the highest breed of humans through selective reproduction, (that is, choosing humans on the basis of who possesses the best genes and discarding others). This may be interpreted as similar to IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) human embryo freezing where the best embroyos are chosen and the rest frozen. This is considered by many as inherently unethical.  

Eugenics is also a political movement that rejects the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefines moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness, hence paving the way for a master race, similar to the ideals of Nazi Germany.

From a philosophical point of view, those who develop AI should note the German philosopher Friedrich Nietszche's (1844-1900) warnings of humankind's will to power. Nietzsche's concern was that if humanity is not careful, it would "kill" God creating a scenario where no morality or ethics exist leading to nihilism. In many ways, AI can be so tempting that humanity will put complete trust in it and forget its dark side where moral, religious and ethical values are discarded.


Re-wiring of the brain

Our brains, especially those of the up-and-coming generation (Gen Z) are being constantly re-wired. The amount of images per second generated on gadget screens is increasing as the human brain tries to cope with the fast influx of information. There is a constant bombardment on the human mind that ultimately will only lead to a complete trust in machines as the human brain will not cope with the speed of changes upon changes.

In the process, "simple traditonal tasks", which we, for now, take for granted like our observation, retaining and recalling skills will be largely taken over by robotic technology.


Developing memory and the power of concentration

Let us not forget that memory is one of the greatest forces of human personality and should not be left exclusively in the hands of machines. In many ways, not only our internet fibre optic cables need to be upgraded and strengthened but also our mental fibres; without them no person can possess an efficient memory.

In order not to depend wholly on AI, we should keep in mind that humans need to be pro-active in their development of memory and the power of concentration.

We would be fooling ourselves and literally enslaved to machines if we do not strengthen the memory faculty, learn how memory works, what observation and concentration mean, retaining and recollecting data and creating visual and phonic photographs to help recall.

It is no mere coincidence that great men and women invariably possess a keen observation and it is more than likely that they owe their exalted positions, in so small measure, to this very faculty. Such simple exercises as: how many keys are there on your key chain? and what is your watch number? can help you gauge your own perceptive powers. It is obvious that not all tasks can be trusted to electronic devices or systems.

AI, together with its related systems, is with us to stay. The benefits are limitless but the threats can also be overwhelming as machines progressively render human mental and physical faculties obsolete. Let's not deceive ourselves and overlook the fact that it was the human brain that created them in the first place and that humans should always exercise self-control and wisdom in their use. Otherwise it could well mean that humans would be unwittingly sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

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