Computer Science Notes

Computer Science Notes

CS Notes is a simple blog to keep track about CS-related stuff I consider useful.

12 Mar 2023

Don't be afraid of AI. Embrace it

by Harpo MAxx (6 min read)

First, I want to clarify a very important fact. From my point of view, talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a difficult task because it is a term that encompasses different disciplines that do not necessarily have to do with computer science. That being said, as a computer scientist, I considered the so-called Artificial Intelligence as nothing more than the natural evolution of algorithmics to solve problems through the computer. Let’s take out of the discussion the debate about whether it has feelings or consciousness, or if it will endanger the survival of humanity, as mentioned in some Hollywood movies (Hello Skynet!! 😎). To be honest, I think that discussion today leads us nowhere.

Artificial intelligence algorithms (like any other type of algorithm) aim at automating tasks that, on the one hand, can be tedious because of their repetitiveness or that would require an enormous amount of time for a human being.

So, if we ask ourselves if the massive development of artificial intelligence can bring any risk, the answer would be equivalent to if 50 years ago we had asked ourselves if using the computer to manage banking processes could have a risk. I think that if we had asked someone from the 70s if they considered the use of algorithms to manage a company’s economic activity risky, there would undoubtedly have been doubts about it. But clearly today, no one would doubt the safety and benefits of such control.

Nobody can deny that computers have brought great changes to the world. Without exaggerating (well.. maybe just a little), many consider the creation of computers to be the most significant technological event of the 20th century 🤯. But If we think about how the world has changed in just 40 years since the invention of the Internet, this does not seem like an unreasonable statement. Access to information and the way we communicate, consume entertainment, and learn are some of the changes that computers have brought us.

More recently, AI algorithms have brought changes too. And they will continue to do so. Our daily consumption routine is driven by recommendation algorithms that are nothing more than artificial intelligence algorithms. Netflix, Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, etc. are just some of the applications that use these algorithms to keep us absorbed in the content they generate for as long as possible.

It is clear that a portion of the fear that has come with the impact of recent tools like ChatGPT or DALL-E is due to the possible job losses that these algorithms can cause. The reality is that these algorithms and their future applications will have consequences in our workplace, and there will surely be jobs that will disappear. But the latter is not something new in this world. Technological changes have always caused changes in the way we work. Going back to the example of the arrival of the activity control systems I mentioned above, the reality is that at that time, those who refused to learn to use computers were eventually displaced from their jobs. Without trying to make future predictions, something similar will happen in the medium term with massive access to artificial intelligence algorithms. Those who do not accept their use will eventually be displaced.

Massive IA algorithms have come to stay.

Fundamentally, we don’t have many options. We have to accept these changes. We can cry and kick about it, but the changes will pass us by sooner or later. It happened with the way we shared music in the late 90s with the creation of Napster. No matter how much they wanted to prevent it, the way to access music changed, and companies needed several years to adapt and find a way to continue generating income (Yeah, I watched The Playlist series on Netflix).

Today the same thing is happening with massive AI algorithms. These algorithms have come to stay. Some people will oppose their use and try to promote their deactivation under the excuse of copyright infringement or whatever. The latter is the case with some visual artists complaining because their work was used to feed these algorithms and now images are generated following the same personal style. As a matter of fact, they are quite right and I consider their claim to be fair. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about it.

Once again, this technology has come to stay and the best thing that we can do is to adopt it, understand its benefits and limitations, and take advantage of it. Like Plastic ArtistLili Fiallo(in spanish) (vice-director of the visual arts career at FAD UNCUYO) who uses this technology for the creation of works of art. In my case, I use it daily. For me, tools like ChatGPT or GitHub Copilot are assistants that, although far from perfect, allow me to be much more productive in my research tasks in the laboratory. Not using them today would be equivalent to not wanting to use Google in 2010. On the other hand, as a teacher, I assume today that my students will make use of this technology, as they did with Wikipedia just a few years ago. Not assuming this would be like pretending that they do not use their cell phones in class.

However, as with the use of any technology, there are ethical considerations. And in the case of artificial intelligence algorithms, the community has been concerned for some time about the ethical aspects associated with this technology. In the Artificial Intelligence course that we teach in the Computer Science program at UNCuyo, we dedicate a couple of classes to analyzing these aspects. Students are asked to analyze different cases and examples of application and develop possible consequences in the community from different ethical aspects. The reality is that the area of development of artificial intelligence algorithms has been concerned about this for a long time now. Many large companies, such as Google or Meta, have an area exclusively dedicated to these considerations. Something that I don’t know if is actually happening in other areas that I personally consider riskier, such as genetic engineering, for example.

So I think we’re living in a really exciting time for computer science. We are going to see some awesome advances in the near future, but there are risks too. It’s up to us to figure out how to use these new tools responsibly. In any case, we must find a way to adopt these technological changes or be forgotten.