A handful of tech moguls already control the global flow of information, but their influence over our lives will only expand and deepen if Congress doesn’t do something soon to pry their greedy hands from the ultimate fruits of AI development. I say this while recognizing the irony of casting our elected representatives as the good guys here. Many if not most of them are in cahoots with the industries they purport to regulate, and some on Capitol Hill could rightly be described as allies of giant companies run by power-hungry men who bend too easily toward the enticements of fascism.
So what have the evil titans of the digital world been up to? For one, they have gone all-out to convince us they’re gung-ho for open-source development of AI code. Who could object to that, especially since they’ve seeded the project with enough money to ensure the kind of breakthroughs that will pay off financially. And for two, they’ve rolled out industrial-strength AI platforms online that can be downloaded and used by nearly anyone. Many subscribers are paying up for bells and whistles that can help their businesses operate more efficiently. Law firms, for instance, have been axing paralegals in droves, since it doesn’t require a human brain to churn out boilerplate that no one reads. And students either too lazy or too stupid to think for themselves, let alone think critically, have gained more time to do the things they really enjoy and care about, such as hook up on Tinder and play beer pong. Such a gift!
There Are Strings
But there are strings attached, and this is where motives and possible outcomes get sticky. The strictures that a handful of AI poobahs have placed on the creators of chat bots are more than a little troubling. Look no further than The Company Formerly Known as Facebook (TCFKAF) to discover how controlling AI’s deep-pocketed sponsors can be. For starters, reports Wired magazine, “the data required to train advanced models is often kept secret. Second, software frameworks required to build such models are often controlled by large corporations. The two most popular ones, TensorFlow and Pytorch, are maintained by Google and [TCFKAF], respectively. Third, computer power required to train a large model is also beyond the reach of any normal developer or company, typically requiring tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for a single training run. And finally, the human labor required to finesse and improve these models is also a resource that is mostly only available to big companies with deep pockets.”
Thanks, but no thanks. “The way things are headed,’ the Wired article continued, “one of the most important technologies in decades could end up enriching and empowering just a handful of companies, including OpenAI, Microsoft, [TCFKAF] and Google.” Enriching the few, indeed. More openness could help remedy the problem, but don’t expect Congress to ride herd on it after TCFKAF’s Zuckerberg is finished bamboozling lawmakers on Capitol Hill with his impressive command of weasel words. (Full disclosure: Your editor thinks the current obsession with AI is 90% hubris and 10% twaddle. Or are we to believe that the same geniuses who gifted mankind with the wretchedly stupid ‘autocorrect’ are about to improve the world with algorithms whose total store of knowledge is unlikely to surpass that of a single human cell?) AI’s supposed potential to make this a better world is just another Wall Street scam, amped up so loud that one could almost be persuaded that it will keep the good times rolling.