May 25, 2024

Without Newspapers, The Deceivers Will Win

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Launched in early December, ChatGPT threatens to revolutionize how we communicate, learn, and participate in society. Like so many other innovations on the internet, the threats it brings could outweigh its promised benefits, especially to our representative democracy.

Generative artificial intelligence (A.I.) is a term we will all hear much more about. It refers to software that has learned to “generate text, images, sounds, and other media in response to short prompts.”

We are now experiencing “a more powerful and more mature breed of A.I.,” Erin Griffith and Cade Metz report for The New York Times. “Ultimately, it could provide a new way of interacting with almost any software, letting people chat with computers and other devices as if they were chatting with another person.”

Once seen as a distant goal, A.I.’s potential to transform society is at our doorstep and knocking on the door.

It has already made the jobs of teachers far more complex. Give it basic instructions on a topic and grade level at which to compose, and it produces the paper. It is being used on assignments by elementary and college students alike.

It gathers information from across the web, condenses it, refines it, and presents a document from a third-grade paper on dinosaurs to a college dissertation on mathematics. It can write poetry and prose like someone with a degree in English literature. The program almost seems sentient. 

Colleges have required essays written by students to assess their qualifications for admissions. Businesses look at resumes to evaluate the communications skills of applicants. ChatGPT will create a version of a person unfounded in reality, with the damage not discovered until its destructive impact has had time to take root.

But its impact will be far-reaching in our deeply divided society where misinformation and intentional disinformation overwhelm the internet. 

“Created by the company OpenAI, ChatGPT is a chatbot that can automatically respond to written prompts in a manner that is sometimes eerily close to human,” Nathan E. Sanders and Bruce Schneier write in a piece for The Washington Post. Sanders is a data scientist and Schneier is a security technologist.

They worry the ChatGPT-type technology will make it easier to manipulate those who serve us in Congress and state legislatures. They may see what can seem like a wave of support or opposition pouring in from reasonable constituents when well-written letters and emails come from an A.I. chatbot.

 Who will control the hate speech, the slander and libel that destroy lives and careers, the shaming that leads to suicides, when an A.I. chatbot can be fed a name and directed to compose a hate-filled attack? These chatbots throw information together without regard to truth or ethics.

It is “not appropriate for me to assist with creating false information or to be involved in any activities that may be illegal or unethical,” ChatGPT professes. “Appropriate” is a word with a lot of leeway built into it and hardly a word synonymous with the internet. And, there are simply ways of assisting ChatGPT to be inappropriate and enter its dark side.

“Scammers are also testing ChatGPT’s ability to build other chatbots designed to impersonate young females to ensnare targets,” Thomas Brewster of Forbes writes. They are using its capabilities to write hacking codes and malware that steal from and damage computer systems.

Deception is easily programmed into ChatGPT’s creative writing talents. Do you need a well-written excuse for not showing up at work or being late with an assignment? It can write you a convincing “lie.” Tell it to create a resume for you with the barest of information, and it will embellish your modest career into one of stellar accomplishments.

The fact that it can produce such believable content will make it all the more convincing to people open to the untruths that conform to their beliefs. 

“You could program millions of these bots to appear like humans, having conversations designed to convince people of a particular point of view,” Jeremy Howard, an artificial intelligence researcher, told Metz.

We are increasingly living in a world where it will be nearly impossible to discern what is real and what is fake. A.I. personalities will talk to you with good eye contact and complete sincerity. They will have answers for every question, bent to shape your prejudices and energize them.

Because the algorithms behind ChatGPT can reflect the biases of its creators, evidence of answers that can discriminate against women pop up in its writings, Barry Collins of Forbes writes. And don’t rely on it for medical advice, it might not be good for your health.

What will ChatGPT do to the reasoning power of students? They will no longer have to think something through, pulling information together from different sources and reaching an informed conclusion – programs like Chat GPT will do it for them. What is the long-range impact on all of us handing off the responsibility to be informed in our decisions when we can just ask a chatbot to give us an answer? Many will remain fundamentally naïve and easily manipulated.

A new “gold rush” is underway in California focused on Silicon Valley. More than 450 start-ups are pursuing generative A.I., with billions of investor dollars being pumped into its development. They are creating the next generation of A.I. chatbots with even more sophisticated capabilities.

A.I. is also evolving deepfake technology’s capability to “swap faces, voices, and other characteristics” of an individual creating digital forgeries to deceive, abuse, and swindle. A.I.’s production of misinformation will be so pervasive that it will be inescapable, so believable it will thoroughly corrupt public knowledge. 

Print news, vetted by professional journalists who adhere to a code of ethics, becomes more essential as these insidious ways of fooling, misleading, and dividing us increase their rule of information on the internet. As newspapers become more important to an accurately informed electorate, the American people are letting them die. The deceivers will be the winners.

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