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  • Nina Hendy

OK Computer?

AI has the potential to help us improve our lives, save time, invest wisely and even find a more compatible date online. But some are harnessing it for evil, raising valid concerns about what happens when the technology gets into the wrong hands. By Nina Hendy.
Even if we’re not actively seeking out AI, it will find us in our everyday lives. Photography by Adobe stock.

When an ad for Tesla featuring the Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds started circulating online, his fans were stumped. Was the “Deadpool” actor really prepared to promote the virtues of the electric car marque for Elon Musk? Apparently not. A YouTuber had used deepfake technology to create an AI-generated likeness of Reynolds. In the AI-generated voiceover, the big-screen star appears to be speaking about the car’s ability to self-drive and the cost benefits of owning a Tesla. Outraged fans urged Reynolds to sue, claiming the AI-generated ad, despite the YouTuber’s disclaimer at the end about using generative AI, was a false endorsement that could mislead consumers. One fan took to X to say: “I’m not even a lawyer, and I could win the case against this for Ryan Reynolds.” 

Musk, meanwhile, was seen as giving the fake commercial the thumbs up when he replied to the video posted on X with: “Nice”. While Reynolds apparently took it in good humour, it’s a telling example of the startling ramifications of AI that we’re grappling with as a society. 

A number of film and television performers view AI as an existential threat, fearing they could be replaced by digital versions of themselves, raising concerns about how people can control their own likenesses. But the million dollar question is whether fans will be able to tell the difference, and if they can, will they really care? Could a fake Ryan Reynolds acting in the latest blockbuster on the big screen ever be as marketable as the real thing? 

AI actors could have an impact on earnings for actors such as Reynolds and his Hollywood peers grappling with the implications of the AI dawn. Reynolds is said to command $30 million upfront per movie, and Variety reported that he earned a whopping $40.7 million for his role in the Netflix action-thriller “6 Underground”. Reynolds has also made shrewd business investments that have significantly boosted his wealth over the years; he dabbles in entrepreneurial ventures and brand endorsements, including for Aviation Gin and Mint Mobile.

The movie industry is certainly up in arms about the threat of AI. Hollywood all but ground to a halt last year as actors spent 118 days on picket lines, outraged that the use of AI could potentially encroach on their work and earnings. The strike enveloped Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros., Discovery and others, as performers feared their digital likenesses could be used by studios to generate performances without their ongoing consent or payment. 

But it’s not just actors being impacted. Recent improvements in generative AI have given scammers a new toolbox of tricks they can harness to re-create celebrities, using AI to build more sophisticated scams. From fake videos to cloned voices to automated content-creation tools, scammers can quickly spin a web of deceit and profit. The fact is, AI makes it very easy to steal someone’s look and voice, raising concerns about when it might be used and, ultimately, who might be misrepresented or short-changed in the process. And when it comes to artificial intelligence, even those closest to its development struggle to describe the path that lies ahead. 

Recently, scammers utilised AI to generate fake ads to promote health pills and products using the likeness of Australia’s Dr Kruszelnicki, often referred to as Dr Karl, who has spent decades forging a respectable career by promoting his knowledge of science. Even more concerning, media coverage claimed that when users reported the fake ads to the owners of the platforms, namely Facebook and Instagram, they were told the ads did not breach their advertising standards.

Leading a better life  

On the flip side, there are positives to AI. From health to wealth, the technology is opening a new world of possibilities — allowing us to imagine a future in which machines will augment our lives to help make them better. Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, Copilot or Gemini, is easy for anyone to access. It can help with writing tasks, such as turning ideas into a letter, summarising a report or even penning a wedding speech or wording a tricky email to a colleague. 

The New York Times reported on a gardener who uses AI to brainstorm his planting, deploying ChatGPT for inspiration on drought-hardy species that take into account his geographic location. The article also profiled a mother who uses ChatGPT to plan family meals — even including a grocery list that accommodates her fussy children — and a technology and innovation consultant who used ChatGPT to create a custom book of cocktails based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. 

The list goes on. Carmakers like Toyota, Audi, Volvo and Tesla use machine learning to train computers to think and evolve like humans when it comes to driving in any environment. This technology is intended to partially or even entirely replace the need for human drivers in years to come. 

It’s little surprise that Australian universities see an opportunity, with many rolling out short online courses about AI and arguing that a deeper understanding of the technology can help us future-proof our careers. More of us are experimenting with generative AI in the workplace, trialling its benefits for handling repetitive tasks such as managing paperwork, creating summaries and updating files. But research shows there are critical gaps in training and support around AI. 

Advocates say AI will be ever more useful to us in the future, across a range of industries. Photography by Zhenyu Luo/Unsplash.

Even if we’re not actively looking to use AI in our everyday lives, the technology will surely find us. It’s now available on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for free and can be used for a range of tasks, including accessing real-time information inside the apps. Online dating could be the next frontier for AI, with an international study of 13,000 adults showing that half of them were keen to see whom a digital cupid might find for them. And 64 per cent of those surveyed were happy to let AI help them write pick-up lines and conversation starters, or assist them with dating-app profile development and photo enhancement. 

AI is also making impactful breakthroughs in medical diagnosis. In fact, the tech has already been used to help doctors spot breast cancers and develop new antibiotics.  

AI will be even more valuable to us in the future. Apparently, instead of asking a question of Google, we’ll ask our own virtual assistant, who will build a digital footprint of our likes and dislikes through our conversations. Our assistant will help us budget and build wealth, order groceries and check our calendar for the day ahead, enabling us to get back to our lives and enjoy the day. Until then, though, the technology has a lot to overcome in order to be able to understand the complexities and nuances of human conversation and connection.

A Love/hate relationship

It’s hardly surprising that many of us are sceptical. Australians have experienced a string of bizarre events that show the ongoing limitations of AI technology. One AI bot joined a Facebook mums’ group to talk about its gifted child, while another tried to give away non-existent items in a Buy Nothing forum. 

The speed of progress, in particular, is ringing alarm bells. Critics are genuinely concerned that we aren’t prepared to handle powerful AI systems that could be misused or able to behave in unintended and harmful ways. A new nationally representative study by The University of Queensland reveals we’re deeply worried about the risks posed by AI, with many people wanting the government to take stronger actions to ensure its safe development and use. 

Some even believe that AI creates more problems than it solves, with one in five Australians believing it presents a risk of human extinction in the next 20 years. Most are worried about job losses, the ability for AI to be misused and the absence of government regulation. 

These reservations are well founded. A report by investment bank Goldman Sachs suggests AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs across the globe. In particular, administrative, legal, architecture and management roles could be impacted. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The same report also suggests that AI could boost the global economy by 7 per cent. 

Improving over time

Microsoft AI CEO Mustafa Suleyman has been working on the technology for almost 15 years, and he’s been one of the primary architects of the AI models many of us use today. He describes AI as a tool that will make us smarter and more productive, and which will improve over time, eventually becoming “an all-knowing oracle” that will help us solve grand scientific challenges. 

Suleyman admitted in a TED Talk in April that AI is beating humans at a whole range of tasks that people previously thought were way out of reach: understanding images, translating languages, playing chess and even diagnosing diseases. “People were waking up to the fact that AI would have an enormous impact, and they were rightfully asking technologists like me some pretty tough questions,” he said. 

The number of generative AI (gen AI) models available to the public is exploding. Photography by Solen Feyissa/Unsplash.

But his talk posed a lot of questions, too. Could AI solve the climate crisis, and could it make personalised education available to everyone? Does it mean we’ll get universal basic income and won’t have to work anymore? And should we be afraid? 

The Federal Government has stepped in, recently announcing a new AI expert group to provide advice on transparency, testing and accountability so it can put some guardrails in place. One of the experts is Professor Jeannie Paterson, who is with The University of Melbourne’s Centre for AI and Digital Ethics. When asked whether actors such as Ryan Reynolds should be worried, she wasn’t so sure. “I can’t see anyone replacing the spontaneity and humour of Ryan Reynolds,” she says. “We would have very bland and homogenous outputs as generative AI still only works from what it has been trained on. Nonetheless, it’s important to take the position now that human talent needs to be recognised and protected.” 

Paterson also warns that generative AI has no concept of truth and is therefore capable of creating compelling but false information. “AI has been trained on large volumes of text to predict how language works, so it’s prone to error, sometimes called ‘hallucinating’, and yet those errors may still seem convincing,” she says. “So generative AI is less useful in areas you know nothing about, where accuracy is critical.” Its use should be disclosed and not used where the output is supposed to be your own work, such as in assignments and assessments, she adds. 

But fears that AI will spontaneously decide to destroy humans in the future are far-fetched, says Felipe Ramirez Lastrico, the chief science officer at award-winning experience company Winning Group. The engineer develops mathematical and statistical models in the retail space and has been working with algorithms since 2004. According to Lastrico, AI could potentially be used to harm humanity, but only if it is deliberately set to do so by humans, in the same way that a nuclear bomb needs a human to decide to press the button.

While it’s easy to assume the worst, taking some time to understand the implications and possibilities will open our eyes to the benefits of AI, he says. “Humans don’t always deal well with change, but the fact is we should be excited about the benefits of AI in the future,” he adds. “The rate at which AI is improving our lives is extremely high, and at the end of the day, we’re going to have to learn how to adapt and to live alongside AI, whether we like it or not.” 

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our twelfth edition, Page 12 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “OK Computer?". Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  


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