And I think that this is actually true of most fears of technology, too. Most of our fears or anxieties about technology are best understood as fears or anxiety about how capitalism will use technology against us. And technology and capitalism have been so closely intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish the two.
A.I. researchers obsess over the question of “alignment.” How do we get machine learning algorithms to do what we want them to do? The canonical example here is the paper clip maximizer. You tell a powerful A.I. system to make more paper clips and it starts destroying the world in its effort to turn everything into a paper clip. You try to turn it off but it replicates itself on every computer system it can find because being turned off would interfere with its objective: to make more paper clips.
Most fears about capitalism are best understood as fears about our inability to regulate capitalism.
“They’re not trained to predict facts,” she told me. “They’re essentially trained to make up things that look like facts.”
What if Google and Microsoft and Meta and everyone else end up unleashing A.I.s that compete with one another to be the best at persuading users to want what the advertisers are trying to sell?
These dangers are a core to the kinds of A.I. systems we’re building. Large language models, as they’re called, are built to persuade. They have been trained to convince humans that they are something close to human. They have been programmed to hold conversations, responding with emotion and emoji. They are being turned into friends for the lonely and assistants for the harried. They are being pitched as capable of replacing the work of scores of writers and graphic designers and form-fillers — industries that long thought themselves immune to the ferocious automation that came for farmers and manufacturing workers.
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