Artificial intelligence – the greatest disruptor of all time? | columnists

To put Leon Trotsky differently, you may not be interested in artificial intelligence, but artificial intelligence is interested in you.

Suddenly, as has long been rumored and anticipated, AI is in the world – a world unready for the massive and forever-long disruptions it threatens. AI could be the most significant disruptive factor in history, surpassing the introduction of the printing press, the steam engine and electricity. It all led to good things.

For now, the long-term effects of AI are only speculative, but they could be terrifying, putting tens of millions out of work, mocking the truth, and rendering images and printed words unreliable.

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There is no consensus on the impact of AI on employment. When I ask, the scientists working on it point to the false fears that once welcomed automation. In reality, jobs grew as new products required new workers.

I have the feeling that the job scenario with AI has yet to be proven. Automation has enriched work by making old work more efficient, creating things that were never fun before, and opening up new worlds of work in the process.

I think AI will eat into employment, but there’s no guarantee it will create great new job opportunities.

A strange AI-driven development could be a resurgence in trade unionism. More people may want to join a union in the hope that it will keep their jobs. People who do less skilled jobs, such as warehouse workers or fast-food waiters, are at risk. Wendy’s, the fast-food chain, is already working to replace thoroughfare orderers with AI-powered systems that mimic humans.

Also at risk are those who find that AI can do much, if not all, of their work as well as they can. This includes lawyers, journalists and musicians.

Here, AI influence could theoretically augment or replace our culture with new creations; better symphonies than Beethoven’s, or better country songs than Kris Kristofferson’s.

I asked the AI-powered search engine Bing about Adam Smith, the 18th-century Scottish economist. Back came three perfect heels that I couldn’t improve on. I was tempted to cut and paste them into the article I was writing. It’s disconcerting to find out that you’re redundant.

Even the developers of AI and those familiar with the technology are alarmed. In my reporting, these range from John E. Savage, An Wang Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Brown University, to Stuart J. Russell, Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley and one of AI’s pre-eminent researchers and authors . They both told me that scientists don’t know how AI works once it works. There is general agreement that it should be regulated.

Russell, whose latest book is called Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control, was among a group of prominent executives who signed an open letter on March 29 calling for a six-month hiatus in AI development until better understood – which might lead to regulation.

And there’s still a catch: How do you regulate AI? Having decided how to regulate AI, how would it be monitored? AI is inherently amorphous and ubiquitous. Who would punish the violations and how?

The general public only really took notice of AI on March 14 with the launch of GPT-4, the successor to GPT-3, the technology behind the chatbot ChatGPT. Billions of people went online to try it, including me.

The chatbot answered most of the questions I asked it more or less accurately, but often with obvious errors. One found out about a friend of my teenage years, but she came from an aristocratic English family, so there was a paper trail to dig up.

Russell from Berkeley told me he believes KI will make 2023 a landmark year “like 1066 (the Norman conquest of England)”.

That’s another way of saying we’re on the razor’s edge of history. Of course you could put an end to the AI, but that would mean doing without electricity – hardly an option.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of The White House Chronicle on PBS. His email is [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @LlewellynKing2. He wrote this for


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