Arizona State University computer technology expert Pei-yu Chen poses a brilliant “what if” scenario that should help anyone understand the opportunities and risks posed by the rise of artificial intelligence software.

Imagine there’s a smart kid, but we don’t teach him anything. Instead, we say, “Hey, kid, just go out there and learn.”

It’s an important time to reflect on this possibility and its implications.

AI is as forceful of a change agent as we’ve seen in our lifetimes. It’s not going anywhere, so we now must determine how we’re going to react and adapt.

It’s been a year since the debut of Chat GPT, bringing to the masses generative AI, capable of creating pictures, essays, music and more.

In that time, we’ve seen:

AI technology has been in development for decades, but 2023 marked a turning point in our understanding of the power of this tool.

“Before,” Chen said, “a lot of AI applications were very narrowly focused and focused on specific tasks, for example, how to play chess … there were very specific goals in mind. But now AI has developed into a general technology.”

Let’s think back to that smart kid. He’s got access to all of the information in the world, but no structure, whatsoever. It could be all about the outcome and next to nothing about the journey.

“The kid will learn shortcuts,” said Chen, co-director of ASU’s new Data and Analytics Center through the WP Carey School for Business. “He could become a dangerous character.

“Education in society helps shape values. We need this for the virtual space.”

Is AI a threat?Why there is reason to worry

Chen’s work involves creating something of a user manual for artificial intelligence in the business world, involving ethics and values that would benefit society, instead of just the individual using — or misusing — the tools.

“What we’ve learned,” Chen said, “is how powerful machines can be for creative work. A lot of times, it’s better than what the average person could do.”

On one end of the spectrum, generative AI could be used to create a digital elephant that sings like Ella Fitzgerald. But it also could be used to mimic someone’s voice on a phone call. So, if you want to scam somebody out of their life savings, there’s an app for that.

“A dark side of Chat GPT has emerged where people can quickly look up ways to attack,” Chen said. “This should be banned.”

It’s something Congress should be all over, and quickly. Aside from law enforcement concerns, federal lawmakers need to create a standard for learning in public schools to make sure kids from poorer or less nimble districts aren’t left behind.

There’s been a push to make sure young people know how to code, but that’s not nearly as important as it was just a few years ago. There’s plenty of easy-to-learn, drag-and-drop software that has minimized the need for designers with technical skills.

What we need is more people who know what to do with AI tools that already are available.

“A coding requirement would be (less important) now, but an understanding of the principles behind the technology are very important,” Chen said. “It’s like a calculator.”

There’s another useful analogy.

Imagine a world full of kids who can use a calculator, but don’t understand basic principles of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.

“We don’t need to do those calculations by hand,” Chen said, “but we have some understanding of the principles behind how things work. We need to develop insights into how to use each tool.

“If you have a good tool, but you don’t know how to use it, it could be very dangerous ... we need to have some checkpoints.”

For me, I think of this growing subset of computer applications like the rise of social media a decade ago. Did anyone stop to think how a relentless flood of images and information would affect individuals or society?

Today, teachers say that students have horrible attention spans. Social anxiety and depression have become so common that they’ve been reduced to the “fear of missing out,” or what we call by the shorthand #FOMO.

People have retreated into information silos where conspiracy theories and prejudices are reinforced.

I don’t think we want to imagine all the “what if” scenarios that could come if we don’t thoughtfully and quickly address AI technology.

The last year has showed us that there’s easily as much risk as opportunity.

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @SayingMoore.

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The most needed tech skill now? How to use AI wisely

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08.12.2023

Arizona State University computer technology expert Pei-yu Chen poses a brilliant “what if” scenario that should help anyone understand the opportunities and risks posed by the rise of artificial intelligence software.

Imagine there’s a smart kid, but we don’t teach him anything. Instead, we say, “Hey, kid, just go out there and learn.”

It’s an important time to reflect on this possibility and its implications.

AI is as forceful of a change agent as we’ve seen in our lifetimes. It’s not going anywhere, so we now must determine how we’re going to react and adapt.

It’s been a year since the debut of Chat GPT, bringing to the masses generative AI, capable of creating pictures, essays, music and more.

In that time, we’ve seen:

AI technology has been in development for decades, but 2023 marked a turning point in our understanding of the power of this tool.

“Before,” Chen said, “a lot of AI applications were very narrowly focused and focused on specific tasks, for example, how to play chess … there were very specific goals in mind. But now AI has developed into a general technology.”

Let’s think back........

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