The Scary Reality We're Approaching With AI Advancements

It’s unsettling, it’s anti-human, and some even think it’s downright demonic – artificial intelligence programs are taking over with promises that they’ll help humanity. But we may not ever be ready for the never-ending list of negative ramifications.

By Andrea Mew5 min read
Pexels/cottonbro studio

Recall that earlier this year, in March, Elon Musk and several other tech giants signed an open letter about AI’s “profound risks to society and humanity.” This came just two weeks after OpenAI released its eerily powerful system GPT-4, which could pass the Bar Exam with a score of 90%, the LSAT at 88%, and ace various graduation exams or Advance Placement (AP) courses. This near 5x improvement on GPT-3 and earlier models is so sophisticated that companies then clamored to integrate its technologies from Duolingo to Stripe to Morgan Stanley and more.

Yet, at the same time that Musk was sounding the alarms about AI risks, he was developing his own bot called Grok through data farmed from X, formerly known as Twitter (personally, I’ll still shill for the old name).

“I signed that letter knowing it was futile,” Musk said. “I just wanted to be on the record as recommending a pause.”

This statement hits the nail on the head for exactly what’s at stake here with AI risks. People with high influence will admit the various ways that advanced AI could out-compete humans and call for a pause on tech development, but ultimately, every competitive business owner has their own agenda to remain on top and continue driving profits. And us everyday citizens? We’re the ones with a disadvantage.

Is It AI, or Is It Real Life?

Taking a more pragmatic perspective, we can’t pretend that fear-mongering over a machine doomsday will genuinely stop anyone – medical researchers, corporations, or bad actors alike – from weaponizing artificial intelligence to their advantage. At this moment in time, AI isn’t an all-powerful, omnipotent machine.

It is refining its ability to generate fake photos and videos, however, and if you’re reasonably skeptical, you’d understand how deepfakes pose major threats to people’s employment, to our elections, and just to the stability of society in general.

So when Tom Hanks shared on his Instagram Story this past October to beware of a “video out there promoting some dental plan” with an AI version of himself and that he has nothing to do with it, it made perfect sense that soon thereafter news broke that he and several other celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Paris Hilton, and Maria Sharapova signed contracts to stay ahead of deepfakers who may exploit their bodies and voices through manipulated content. 

The company doing de facto damage control is called Metaphysic AI, which has already partnered with creators, sports stars, actors, and influencers to protect personal biometrics, house (but not own) a person’s likeness, and even negotiate fair compensation for the use of their image and voice. 

Want to copyright your digital self? Well, naturally, there’s a big cost to entry that is only feasible for high profile individuals like Hathaway or Hilton. If you want in on Metaphysic AI’s subscription model once it launches, you’re looking at upwards of $10,000 per year, but right now, the PRO function is invite-only. 

“Lots of people are getting this deepfake scam ad of me… are social media platforms ready to handle the rise of AI deepfakes? This is a serious problem,” wrote YouTuber-turned-philanthropist MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson), who has faced similar issues to Hanks.

Donaldson isn’t wrong that this is a serious problem. Two recently released surveys on AI detection out of and Pindrop and Northeastern University revealed that around half of the participants couldn’t distinguish between human-generated content and artificially generated deepfakes. Even if we figure out the tell-tale signs that a video, audio clip, or photo is a deepfake, facial stiffness, monotonous vocal ranges, and superfluous fingers could very well be fixed in future generations of GPT.

Two recent surveys revealed that around half of the participants couldn’t distinguish between human-generated content and AI deepfakes. 

Content Can Already Be Manipulated To Cause Damage with the Tech We Have Now

Fact-checking sites can’t be trusted, people might become desensitized to shocking content (Boy Who Cried Wolf, anyone?), digital literacy still has huge learning curves for populations young and old, and since many of us work remotely or participate in online communities, we’re exposed to many digital users that may be bots. Humans have to bear the burden of verification, whether that’s ponying up $10+ each month for official social media profiles or cryptographic signatures. 

It’s all well and good that high profile celebrities and people with a spare $800+ each month to drop can protect their digital likeness, and frankly, we should be a bit grateful that there are companies out there offering some sort of option instead of just allowing things to feel like the wild, Wild West. 

At the same time, we should be reasonably wary of these companies' intentions because if we want to opt in to something like Metaphysics’ model, we have to proactively upload our own datasets and can give consent for them to create photo-real AI content on our behalf in the future. 

Whether you're Britney Spears, whose life was previously managed for her under a conservatorship, or you’re an everyday woman who has perhaps fallen into an abusive or manipulative relationship, consent can clearly already be manipulated, but at least at this moment in time, there are fewer avenues for convincing deepfakes. A New Jersey high school recently made headlines after male students circulated AI-generated nudes of female students. Not only were the girls humiliated, but the local police and county prosecutors are even on the case.

In response to these issues, Congress has discussed bills to hold deepfakers liable if a person’s likeness is used sans consent, like the “Nurture Originals, Foster Art, and Keep Entertainment Safe Act of 2023" (a.k.a. the NO FAKES Act), but each state has different degrees of legislatively-guaranteed protection for right of publicity. Furthermore, President Biden recently signed an executive order that ensures that “AI advances equity,” essentially meaning that critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion mandates will be programmed into their processing.

High-Tech Developments Have High-Risk Results 

Surveillance through Facial Recognition Technology

Don’t let people call you a conspiracy theorist for feeling a bit skeptical about handing over even more of your freedoms to Big Tech, spearheaded by corporate executives in Silicon Valley who would probably hate you. If our government veers more toward an autocratic path (a.k.a. we give up more ruling power to our “democratic” leadership and allow for further government encroachment), we should be aware of the very real possibility that facial recognition tools could be used to track and oppress. 

Though China hadn’t yet centralized its social credit system, early reporting revealed people with lower social credit scores have been barred from good hotels and better train fare, and authorities even cracked the proverbial whip on air travelers 17.5 million times by the end of 2018. Since then, the Chinese Communist Party has begun integrating AI within their security checkpoints, surveillance cameras – of which there are over 500 million nationwide – and computing centers. 

If you visit a Chinese hotel, shopping mall, gas station, or bank, you might be confronted with a facial-recognition scanner – the likes of which are being replicated in at least 80 countries worldwide. The European Parliament approved the AI Act in June this year to ban live facial recognition technology for policing in public spaces, but surveillance in public spaces are only one piece of this puzzle.

One mother claimed that scammers deepfaked her daughter’s voice for an “emergency” phone call designed to sound like a kidnapping for a hefty $1 million ransom demand. A National Eating Disorders Association AI chatbot gave risky advice to users struggling through eating disorder recovery about pinching skin folds to measure their body fat and calorie restriction. AI bots might also be a bit racist, as some have been found to discriminate during hiring practices or while processing mortgage applicants. 

Naturally, left-leaning corporations want to overcorrect “biases” or prevent the spread of “disinformation,” and this means that they’ll be bankrolling startups that blacklist dissenters from progressive orthodoxy. They’ve already done it – from 2018 to 2022, $1.2 million was spent by the federal government to surveil social media and blacklist “mis- and dis-information” spreading companies online.

AI Displacing Humans from Their Jobs

Countless people also feel reasonably fearful about machines replacing their jobs as automation could save money and streamline production. AI cuts humans out of processes they’ve honed for quite some time now, and while those manual processes may be “tedious” labor, they also make a person feel more human. 

Isn’t it somewhat of a bleak outlook that, instead of humans operating junior-level work as we know it, people will instead sit in front of their screens and just prompt AI to do work for them? There’s a good reason why people who garden or woodwork feel so much therapeutic fulfillment when they get their hands dirty and work toward an outcome: They play a role in production. AI prompting transcends the human experience and brings people further away from their nature. 

Workers who frequently use AI are more likely to experience insomnia and loneliness, and even drink more frequently.

We find satisfaction from the hormonal perspective when we work toward perceived goals, whether that’s career work or caring for loved ones. But spend several days with idle hands, and you’ll find that unstructured living doesn’t guarantee that same serotonin boost. In fact, researchers found that workers who frequently use AI are more likely to experience insomnia and loneliness, and even drink more frequently. I’m not insisting that people should suffer through rough manual labor, but as the animals we are, people should remain a part of the human experience.

AI Could Pave the Way for Communism

Let’s also take into consideration how implementing AI on a mass scale could lead us toward something similar to communist rule. Don’t just take it from me – someone extremely skeptical of big government – take it from supporters like pop musician Grimes, who once said that AI could “solve for abundance,” meaning that no one would have to work, and everyone is provided a comfortable living.

“AI could automate all the farming, weed out systematic corruption, thereby bringing us as close as possible to genuine equality,” Grimes told Cut contributor Mia Mercado back in June 2021. “So basically, everything that everybody loves about communism but without the collective farm.” 

Forgive me for being a bit wary about the prospect of transferring more power toward a central authority. They’re not guaranteed to place warmth, empathy, and philanthropy above unadulterated, dictatorial power and control.

Closing Thoughts

No matter if we’re in the digital or physical sphere, there will always be unethical people attempting to scam the innocent. Whether you’re spiritual or not, you can understand just how “fallen” human nature may be. Centuries ago (or, well, even today), people got conned by snake oil-esque salesmen touting ineffective, dangerous tinctures to provide cures.

It’s naive, however, to pretend like there aren’t many amazing things that AI can provide us. Society could indeed benefit from improved cancer diagnoses, fraud detection, and weather disaster forecasting or management. But as we increasingly rely on these algorithmically-powered machines to do our work for us, we inadvertently make sacrifices, trading off privacy and personal ownership, and even skill and intelligence, for convenience. 

Furthermore, if we outsource more and more of our human processes which require ethics and debate to machines that often misbehave, we could suffer at the hands of its incompetence. In the recent past, AI has been prompted to plan out how to destroy humanity, and thankfully, it's not competent enough nor given the resources in order to do so. Give AI a few more generations though, and we may all be wishing for the days when it simply generated goofy photos with extra fingers and lazy eyes.

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