AI HYPE: A Commentary by A. Michael Noll
March 29, 2023
Copyright © 2023 A. Michael Noll
The 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick frighten us with the computer “HAL” that reads lips, makes decisions, kills, and ultimately goes berserk. Decades later around 2011, IBM introduced its “Watson” computer, that actually won in the “Jeopardy!” TV show against humans.
Computers and artificial intelligence (AI) have a history of creating fear and panic. Perhaps it is our “natural stupidity” to fear what we do not really understand.
Recently, Elon Musk and a gang of others are warning us about AI, and its risks to society. Only a little earlier, he and others were touting its benefits to society.
I am reminded of the death of society that was about to occur from the Y2K bug that would cause a colossal collapse of computers around the planet at the turn of the millennium. It was mostly hyperbole to generate fear and business for consulting firms – absolutely nothing happened. But just to be safe, a few others and I hid in a zinc mine in New Jersey at the turn of the century.
Every “new” technology comes with its benefits – and its dangers. We loved – and feared – robotics, automation, computers, television, gaming, texting, and a host more. Hyperbole gripped virtual reality, and more recently, the mataverse. Some of these “new” technologies promise a revolution in many benefits – but all the benefits go in the denominator, thereby approaching zero in final effect.
Are Elon Musk and his gang simply promoting AI by warning us of its proposed dangers? Has he fallen for his own hype? At least P. T. Barnum did not believe his own hyperbole.
A. Michael Noll worked in the Office of Science and Technology of the Executive Office of the President during the early 1970s, where he learned to be skeptical and questioning of science, technology, and government. He currently is Professor Emeritus of Communications at the USC Annenberg School, and a writer of opinion pieces and columns.