The why of AI beyond chatbots

Is artificial intelligence going to change the world? It already has, but hype about chatbots is a problem

Timandra Harkness, author of Big Data: Does Size Matter?

While the two sides of today’s debate on artificial intelligence (AI) slug it out on whether or not the technology is beneficial, some different, and more human, issues are being squeezed out.

Timandra Harkness, author of Big Data: Does Size Matter? and the forthcoming book Technology is Not the Problem, said that it should be remembered that AI is a big field.

Is it one that will change how we live and work, though? Perhaps.

“My answer is ‘yes and no’, as it always is. The big danger is that hype over ChatGPT will cause people to become disillusioned,” she said.

Hype over ChatGPT could cause people to become disillusioned

Indeed, when ChatGPT 3.5 burst onto the scene in November 2022 it actually seemed almost, well, intelligent. The problem is it is not.

“Because a large language model interacts with the user in a human-like way it can seem like it is actually intelligent, which it is not in any way. It’s just a much-improved user-interface,” she said.

As a result, other and arguably more fundamental uses of AI, such as statistical analysis and sorting enormous volumes of data, risk being overlooked as the chatty dancing monkey first amazes and then disappoints us.

The tendency to see intention in fundamentally inert things is a very human one, though. Indeed, Harkness’s new book touches on people’s desire to see agency in machines, albeit in a slightly different way.

“The book is about why everything is personalised now. The answer is not technology, it is us. It reflects things that have been happening at least since the 1960s, if not the 1660s,” she said.

“What the technology does do, is it shapes the form in which we create, project and build our own identities. It’s not as though the technology has no effect [whatsoever]; it changes how we do that and how companies and organisations do what they do to track us and sell us stuff such as personalised services.”