News & Insights

Digital Dive: Godfather of AI Questions the Technology, Tech Giant Lawsuits, and More

By Alyssa Carino

The Digital Dive - Digital Intelligence Newsletter.

The Big Story

The Godfather of AI Warns About Technology’s Dangers

At the beginning of May, news broke that Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, often recognized as the “Godfather of AI,” was leaving his role at Google to speak out about the dangers of this new, quickly developing technology. Dr. Hinton is known as a pioneer and one of the most respected voices in the AI space as he and two of his graduate students from the University of Toronto developed technology in 2012 that became the foundation for today’s up and coming AI systems, like Microsoft’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Dr. Hinton plans to work to speak openly about the technology’s dangers and feels partly regretful for his contributions to the field. However, Dr. Hinton finds some comfort by telling himself “If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have.”

After OpenAI released a new version of ChatGPT in March, over one thousand technology leaders and researchers, including Elon Musk, signed an open letter calling for a six-month halt on the development of new AI systems due to the “profound risks to society and humanity.” Musk told Fox News that Google Co-Founder, Larry Page, was “not taking AI safety seriously enough” and that they aimed to create a “digital superintelligence, basically a digital god, if you will, as soon as possible”. Only days later, members from the 40-year-old academic society, the Association of the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, released their own letter warning of the technology’s potential dangers. Although Dr. Hinton did not sign either of those letters as he did not want to publicly criticize Google while still working there, he did choose to resign from his role shortly afterwards.

According to Dr. Hinton, up until last year, he believed that Google had been a “proper steward” of AI technology and acted carefully to not release something potentially harmful into the world. However, he changed his mind once Microsoft began incorporating their own chatbot into its Bing Search engine, which posed a threat to Google’s search business. In a knee jerk reaction, Google quickly raced to build and deploy a similar technology in order to hold their own in this ongoing battle of the tech giants that may be impossible to stop, according to Dr. Hinton.

Dr. Hinton and other tech leaders’ immediate concerns revolve around the disinformation that can and has already started to flood the internet, like fake photos, videos and content causing the average person to “not be able to know what is true anymore.” AI opponents believe that the technology could be exploited by “bad actors” to persuade human thinking in a specific manner, which is quite concerning for economic and political factors, such as the upcoming elections.

Dr. Hinton also worries about how this technology can disrupt the job market by eliminating the need for specific jobs, like paralegals, personal assistants and translators. Most frightening, Dr. Hinton and others warn about the risks of this technology eventually becoming more intelligent than humans. From the vast amounts of data that the technology analyzes, it often learns unexpected behaviors which becomes an issue since this technology not only generates its own computer code, but also runs the code on its own. This could allow the technology to eventually transform into an autonomous weapon. “The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people — a few people believed that,” he said. “But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that.”

According to Dr. Hinton and other opponents, the current race between Google and Microsoft will escalate into a larger global race that will not be stopped without some sort of global regulatory intervention. They believe that there is a dire need for collaboration between the world’s leading scientists to figure out how to control the technology. On the regulatory front, there has been little movement by government officials as to how to handle this type of technology due to the limited understanding of this powerful technology. Valérie Pisano, the chief executive of Mila, the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, also spoke out saying that this haphazard approach to AI safety would not be tolerated in any other field. She said “the technology is put out there, and as the system interacts with humankind, its developers wait to see what happens and make adjustments based on that. We would never, as a collective, accept this kind of mindset in any other industrial field. There’s something about tech and social media where we’re like: ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll figure it out later.’’’

It will certainly be a mixture of excitement and fear to watch how this AI race continues to unfold, especially as the opposition grows. If an axe to the brain takes care of a zombie, hopefully a bottle of water will do the trick on these potential future “killer robots” [insert nervous laugh].

Social Updates

There’s a New CEO in Town

Elon Musk has appointed Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter. Musk tweeted out that he would be focusing on product design and new technology, while Yaccarino will head up operations. This move allows Twitter to focus more on its advertising business, as Yaccarino has been an advertising powerhouse on Madison Avenue for decades, previously COO at Turner Entertainment and Advertising Chief at NBCUniversal more recently. With her ties to the advertising industry, it will be interesting to see if she can shift advertisers’ perceptions of the more recently controversial app and move the platform into its next era, Twitter 2.0.

Montana Bans TikTok and TikTok Fights Back

Montana Governor, Greg Gianforte, signed legislation that prohibits the use of TikTok within the state. Under this legislation, Google and Apple will not be able to offer the app within their app stores. The legislation, which is planned to take effect in January 2024, raises concerns about data security and privacy, particularly regarding the Chinese-owned social media platform. The move follows similar actions taken by other states, reflecting the growing scrutiny and unease surrounding the app’s handling of user data. While proponents argue that the ban is necessary to protect citizens, critics question the constitutionality and practicality of such measures. TikTok fought back this week by suing Montana, saying that this statewide ban is a violation of Americans’ First Amendment right to free expression. This challenge will likely delay the ban’s effect next year.

Meta’s Billion Dollar Fine

Meta is up against a pretty hefty fine of $1.3 Billion for violating EU privacy laws (General Data Protection Regulation) by transferring the personal data of EU Facebook users over to servers in the United States. European Regulators, led by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, have argued that the data transferred to the US was not sufficiently protected from American spy agencies. This is the largest fine given to date under GDPR law.

In addition to this, Meta is also ordered to halt all transfers of European Facebook data to the United States. The ruling grants a 5-month grace period before Meta needs to comply and is only specific to Facebook. Meta revealed that they plan to appeal this decision, which will likely result in a lengthy legal process. This ruling comes in the midst of negotiations between European Union and American officials on developing a new data-sharing pact that would provide legal protections to Meta and other tech companies for sharing information between the US and Europe.

Digital Updates

ChatGPT Goes Mobile

This month, OpenAI announced the launch of an official iOS app that allows users to use the recently popular ChatGPT chatbot on their phones. This app, which is planned to be rolled out just in the US initially, will come at no cost for users, will allow for voice input and will be ad free. When using this mobile version, the app will sync your ChatGPT history across devices to make the content of interest more accessible for users. This integration puts some pressure on search engines like Google, who are now up against this new generative AI technology for being the source of answers for user queries.

Google’s Topic Authority Ranking System for News Sites

Google recently revealed new details on their upcoming ranking system called “Topic Authority.” The goal of this new system is to deliver more relevant, expert, and knowledgeable content in Google Search as well as News sites for queries on specialized topics. This system uses a variety of signals, like notability and source reputation, to gauge a publication’s level of expertise in specific fields. For example, if a user is searching for local news in their area of a specific event that took place, the search results may vary between coverage on a similar event but not specific to that area. This system will help serve users more local news stories that are more relevant to the user. Furthermore, this new system will prioritize local publications covering topics in that specific region, giving these publishers more visibility. From a Search Engine Optimization standpoint, it is important for publishers to continue developing strong authoritative content in their areas of expertise in order to be picked up in this new ranking system.

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