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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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It's only a matter of time (AI)

10 Nov 2023

As the world scrambles to regulate AI, for fear it will end us all, I have a bold prediction.

I predict that AI will soon be classified as something akin to guns.

We will be told that AI is potentially so dangerous that it may not be used without a license and that anyone who does create an AI system without such a license will be considered a criminal.

No, I'm not kidding.

AI, we're told, could pose an existential threat to mankind and for that reason we can't allow people to build their own systems, any more than we can allow members of the public to own guns or build their own nuclear weapons.

Is there any veracity to such a claim?

Might it be possible for someone or some entity to build an AI system that is powerful enough to pose any real threat?

Well given the amount and cost of the hardware involved in creating anything other than a proof of concept AI system, I don't think we're at any risk; at least not yet.

It has to be conceeded however, that given the effects of Moore's Law and the general rate at which the power of computer hardware grows, the time when it might become economically and practically feasable for someone other than a huge corporation or government to build a highly competent AI system is not too far away.

Just as we saw huge clusters of high-end GPUs used to mine crypto a few years back, it's not beyond imagination that we'll see the same thing happen with underground AI.

So what nefarious tasks could these unlicensed AI systems perform that would make them a "risk" to us?

The most obvious is the creation of deepfakes, smart "bots" and other tools of those who seek to misinform and disinform others. Throw in a bit of AI-generated pornography and you'd have a thriving business on your hands if your system was good enough.

Does this actually warrant making AI a restricted commodity though?

After all, voice actors and impersonators can already produce convincing fake voice and video of famous and influential people. Likewise, anyone with a paintbrush can create pornographic images on a canvas -- digital or otherwise but we don't consider restricting the availability of paints do we?

Using my video camera, computer and VFX software I can produce some very convincing but totally fake illusions that rival or exceed those that AI can come up with -- so will I require a license to continue doing this?

The only argument is that good AI makes such things simpler -- but should that be justification for requiring a license and restricting access to such technology?

It's not as if someone's going to cobble together a few old graphics cards in their basement and create an AI system that will somehow take over the world -- so is the threat of massive regulation really necessary at this point in time?

I have no answer to that question but, as usual, I prefer to err on the side of not removing freedoms unnecessarily and not solving problems that do not yet exist. However, others may think differently and have convinvcing arguments to support their views.

Only time will tell if AI becomes the next big "boogeyman" that governments use to exert even more control and restriction over those who they are elected to serve. It seems that these governments always need to create some kind of existential threat and wage war against it in order to justify the erosion of our freedoms. If it's not a war against drugs, a war against terror or a war against disinformation it might as well be a war against rogue AI. As they have in the past, the public will swallow it hook, line and sinker then not utter a sound as, in the name of this latest crusade, they lose even more of the few freedoms that remain.

Oh, I am so old and cynical.

Carpe Diem folks!

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