Culture, Features, News

Rage Against the Machine: Assessing the ‘evil’ of Artificial Intelligence

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Featured image: Faye Byrne

Artificial Intelligence has dominated public discourse since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022. According to a UK Government survey, the word “worried” was most commonly used to describe people’s feelings about AI.

American actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger shared his thoughts on the subject earlier this year claiming that The Terminator “has become reality”. The star was using his platform to raise the alarm about concerns of machines taking over and there is something that rings true about his words.

Over the last century, the fantasy of machines surpassing and usurping humanity has been seen in the most popular science-fiction. Today, AI has become powerful enough to be a real worry; crossing the boundaries of speculative sci-fi, and becoming a real concern to be addressed.

“We shouldn’t be worried about a Skynet/Terminator situation; we should be worried about the prospect of us losing our jobs and how society will cope,” says certified Cyber Security Analyst and former Manchester Met Cyber Security alumni, Ewan Downey.

Perhaps the biggest fear concerning AI is that it will lead to enormous job losses. This June, a BMG Research survey for The i found that 39 percent of the general public are concerned about future employment prospects. This figure increases to 52 percent of 18-24 year olds.

This concern over job insecurity was a major catalyst for the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike currently taking place in Hollywood. The high-profile industrial action is a significant symbol of the struggle between labour and AI, and marks the first time that SAG and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have gone on strike together since the 1960s.

“Writers don’t want AI to study their work and to be replaced, however the companies aren’t budging on this,” says Ewan. “They won’t give up an opportunity to save this much money.”

Ewan speaks candidly of his personal experience: “I can’t even find work these days as a programmer in data solutions because AI has taken all the jobs in analysis, database architecture, and network infrastructure.He compares the current situation to the industry shifts that took place in the mid-20th century when automation led to a significant decline in manual labour jobs.

“I’m retraining to program AI,” he says. “Otherwise, there will be no work for me in the future. I would recommend to everyone to get well-adjusted to AI tech.”

Some issues associated with AI are in fact driven by large corporations hoping to cut costs, says Ewan: “Ultimately it’s not science or progress driving us to make advancements in AI, but greed.”

Yonghong Peng, Professor of AI at Manchester Met and the head of the University’s Research and Knowledge Exchange Centre for Advanced Computational Science, weighs in on AI’s effect on employment.

He says, “While [AI] brings forth opportunities for innovation and efficiency, it also raises concerns about job displacement. The need for upskilling and reskilling the workforce to adapt to this changing landscape becomes crucial.”

Professor Peng describes AI’s impact on culture and social relations as “vast and complex”. He adds, “While AI has brought tremendous advancements and conveniences, it also requires ethical, societal, and cultural considerations.”

The creative sector is one of the first to be majorly affected by AI. Isobel Bates studies MA Graphic Design, specialising in Motion Graphics with Augmented Reality. “It’s taken away the mystery and culture from our industry,” says Isobel, reckoning that “clients will probably try to justify poor pay because AI can do it”.

She says, “Those who’ve taken years to learn their craft are now being told AI can do it better.”

Describing it as “embarrassing” when people claim to have created art while solely using an AI art generator, Isobel predicts a future industry flooded with “faux designers”.

Speaking about some of the positive benefits of AI, Ryan Houghton, a trainee English teacher and former Manchester Met student in English and History, explains how technology has helped them in their career. “It’s been a survival tool for me over my training year as it has cut my planning workload massively. Overall, it cuts down workload – a common issue in teaching.”

Time-saving benefits of AI are already easily accessible to the public. Spell-check and chatbots are examples of commonly integrated AI we may take for granted.

Helen Clark is the Marketing and Communications lead for the UK Cyber Security Council. She describes having “no desire to help retailers create a customised shopping experience or help social media organisations mine your data”.

Talking about what field of Artificial Intelligence interests her; Helen refers to medical deep learning: “The work being done to analyse genes and metabolic data to predict genetic disease will ultimately save lives.”

The pattern-recognition software can be used to recognise symptoms of disease. Digital Health reported that “AI has helped over 38,000 NHS patients and detected more than 2,200 cancer cases to date.”

Professor Peng describes AI as having “the potential to further bridge language barriers, facilitate effective collaboration with smoother intercultural and international communications”.

AI grants access to people with disabilities, with one study concluding that the use of speech-to-text technology allowed children with special educational needs and disabilities to communicate more effectively, significantly boosting their self-esteem.

Speech-to-text and text-to-speech technologies effectively remove barriers which would otherwise prevent entire groups of people from accessing quality education.

In the 21st century, technological advancement has coincided with increasing inequality and wealth disparity. The idea that ‘automation’ could ever bring about a utopia, ending the need for labour, appears now a bygone pipe dream.

However, Professor Peng argues that this was never a desirable outcome: “Rather than striving for a completely automated society, we should aim to leverage the technological advance to empower humans to achieve their value and enable sustainable society.”

He tells us that invaluable human qualities such as empathy, creativity and belonging ought to be preserved. For AI to truly better society, we must protect those precious qualities of humanity, and assert ourselves as the drivers of our own destiny.

“By emphasising human values, embracing diversity, and maintaining our compassion and empathy, we can shape a future that leverages technology for the betterment of humanity while cherishing the unique qualities that make us human.”

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Clayton McLoughlin-Lopez

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