When Robot Hype Makes Us Do a Facepalm

When Robot Hype Makes Us Do a Facepalm

The Gist

  • AI exploitation. Various entities use AI to mask problems, gain public favor and monetize attention.
  • Telling signs. Discerning progress from nonsense requires recognizing companies using AI to cover deeper issues.
  • Political posturing. Genuine efforts to address AI’s opportunities and risks are overshadowed by political grandstanding.

You can already see the machine at work. Corporations, politicians, threadbois and “thought leaders” are probing and prodding, searching desperately for ways to use AI to mask problems, gain favor with the public and monetize attention. Amid real technological progress, they’re forging a broad, cynical and craven AI PR industrial complex that’s just now coming into focus.

AI Hype: Opportunity, Exploitation & Discerning Progress

This AI PR industrial complex is growing larger and worse than its predecessors — like crypto — because the technology is making anything seem possible. With so much opportunity, vacuousness fills the gaps and exploitation follows. Random academics are hitting the speaking circuit to declare ChatGPT could turn us into paper clips. Middling politicians are writing implausible bills hoping to land on the Sunday talk shows. And CEOs are using AI as an excuse for absolutely anything that goes wrong in their business. 

With real innovation at hand, it can be difficult to distinguish nonsense from progress, but there are some telling signs. Companies declaring they’re using AI to replace human workers, for instance, are almost always just papering over more serious business problems. Their statements typically indicate they’re thinking small, are looking to reduce their workforce anyway, or both.

Related Article: Next up for AI Chatbots: It’s All About the APIs

IBM’s AI Contradiction: A Pretext for Cost-Cutting?

Take IBM, for example. Just this week its CEO Arvind Krishna said his company would pause hiring for back-office roles that AI might replace, suggesting AI could take over as many as 7,800 positions. Technology this powerful should be able to make workers more productive, not unnecessary. And IBM itself sells that very idea to those who buy its Watson AI service. In its marketing materials, it says Watson helps “free up employees to focus on higher value work.” The incongruity is revealing.

Instead of a company responding to a technological sea change, IBM feels more like a diminished giant using AI as a pretext to cut costs. Those close to the company say its statements — while giving it the AI sheen — mask the reality within, where the big, slow organization would struggle to hand thousands of jobs to AI. “Blanket statements work for people that don’t understand how technology can scale across the enterprise,” one ex-IBM employee told me. “It just completely gives more rationale to have more leeway to make more reductions.”

Related Article: The Homogenization of Social Media Can Have Some Real Consequences

Source link