A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting in the circle of the Park Theatre waiting to watch Disruption, a new play taking on the future – and ethics – of AI.
As I awaited the play’s start, the iconic digital digits of 0 and 1 flickered across the scenery in Matrix style, as the binary code traversed a network of algorithmic patterns etched into the floor. The stage was aptly set.
The story centred on Silicon Valley entrepreneur Nick and his swanky new AI project. Needing to test out his algorithm and impress investors, he sets about commandeering his old-time friends to invest in the project (and, in doing so, become test subjects).
The brains behind the project is the youthful, alluring and ruthless Raven. She leads the charge behind the scenes. As Raven elicits, the algorithm is designed to “curate curiosity”, creating seemingly random and serendipitous moments; big decisions being made for us to map out the defining moments of our lives.
But underneath the charming bravado and comical interactions on show, a deeper undercurrent lurks beneath the flashy code lights. Does the algorithm hold nefarious intentions in manipulating not only the test subjects but the creators of the algorithm as well? Are defining moments being created for us without us knowing it? Is this an example of tech ‘disrupting’ for the sake of it?
A series of (unfortunate) events unfolds and we are left in the lurch on where to stand on it all. Nick’s final speech compares AI’s advance to the same effect of how “the lightbulb changed our relationship with the night”. As he concludes, “technology doesn’t deny us freedom, it enhances it.”
We’re left thinking, does it?
Progress vs fears
The open-ended feelings of both progress and fears perhaps perfectly marry the current state-of-play in society. As discourse around AI is as prevalent as it has ever been, the play’s timeliness could not be more pronounced.
Many concerns hold true. Yet much fear is stoked by misinformation. AI works off the data it is trained on and fed, often relying on historical content and synthetic data. For now, this keeps it rooted in these parameters. More worrying is the reflection of our society and the biases that exist within it – this is something that has to be addressed.
The play also remains particularly pertinent at a time when a part of the writers’ and actors’ strike revolves around AI (the irony is not lost here). Legal protection is a must that should be striked for. But AI also has the potential to aid artists and enhance artistic endeavours. In fact, it may even trigger a greater need for original human-made content.
Human connection, live performance and physical interaction will remain. Most people want to see real actors on screen performing or know they are real. And, as Tom Hanks remarked, AI could even prolong actors’ careers long after their death.
As chair of the Writers’ Guild Lisa Holdsworth said, “the threat is not necessarily from the technology, the threat is from people [in charge of the money] who, with that lack of creativity, don’t realise the Pandora’s box that could be opened if we go down this road.”
The key is keeping AI rooted as a tool to help us, not as a project to supersede us. Left unchecked and unregulated, that is when concerns become more than valid. Just as the internet unbridled can become a dangerous place, the same is true of all tech. So, for AI to truly succeed, regulation is a must.
AI for good can keep humans being humans
While tools like ChatGPT have transported AI from the periphery of most people’s awareness into the mainstream, its use has been widespread in our lives for a while now. With the right regulation and sustainable, responsible development, it has the power to transform our lives in a similar vein to the web’s impact on the world. What is more important is what it is used for and how it is developed.
We see first-hand how scaleups are using its capabilities to take on the great crises facing humanity, transforming global farming supply chains, creating more sustainable transport networks, revolutionising healthcare and building synthetic environments that eliminate using private personal data. AI for good over AI for superiority – this is what we need to focus on.
For millennia, humans have moved around the world like actors in fitting with Shakespeare’s iconic line ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’. As I gazed down at the stage with my eyes swimming in binary code, I was left reframing this famed saying as ‘All the world’s AI, and all the humans merely algorithms’.
Well, while all the world will become more AI, developed correctly, all the humans will more than keep their being.
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