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Reflections: Technological advancement is not always a good thing

For ages, humans have obsessed over progress, because progress is believed to be the solution to our issues. 

There is constant discussion about how to develop and implement solutions to what we perceive as problems. One could argue that everything we do — from school, to employment, to clubs, to the art and music we create — revolves around bettering the world for others in some way. Everything we do has been justified to benefit humanity.

We have a drive for advancement. We have a drive for improving our homes, what cars we drive, the words we put down on a page, the instagram posts we put out into the world, and more. Whether this is something produced socially — namely, the judgment of others pushing us to seek improvement — or if it’s innate, well, that’s a discussion for another column. 

However, this discussion of endless human advancement is apt for one current topic: the development of artificial intelligence.

We here at Ohio University have all heard of Chat GPT, or seen the discourse surrounding AI generated art or music, or seen the reports of fake stories designed to imitate veritable news organizations. Or the ‘copilot’ that is now in some browsers. The list goes on.

In the few short months after its debut, public-use AI has become extremely visible in discussions regarding technology. And these discussions have been mostly negative.

People often wonder what jobs AI could and will replace. Whether AI is going to steal from artists’ hard work. Whether it will contribute to misinformation. Again, the list of anxieties goes on and on. 

So, to return to my original thoughts, the primary purpose of technological advancement is to provide some benefit to society. Otherwise, it’s not justified. 

And, with the artificial intelligence that has been handed down to the public, I just can’t see the benefits. 

To provide just one example, Snapchat, a social media app, just released a version of their AI. Users can chat and share photos with it all the same as real friends. It cannot be removed, unless you pay a fee. Snapchat is an app for communication, and they have developed something for our isolated generation to communicate with. Personally, I think it tells us quite a bit about a developer's intentions when they create something that seemingly preys on the already exorbitant loneliness of Generation Z. 

That AI was not created with human and social benefits in mind. It was created to keep up with the latest fads and to make Snapchat more competitive with other social media. 

There is no denying that technology is useful. There is no denying that technology is necessary. It’s why, in the 21st century, STEM is praised and encouraged to young students as a career. We see science as the future. But not all technology is useful and necessary, and I believe this applies to artificial intelligence for public use. The only arguments for AI have been to justify its existence–which is never encouraging. 

Human advancement is pursued relentlessly, but it is not always a good thing. It has the capacity to harm, just as it has the capacity to hurt. Novelty is not a reason to praise something we have created.

It’s too early to say what kind of threat AI is going to be to us, if it is any sort of threat at all. As an example, the 2020 election and COVID-19 pandemic was rife with conspiracy theories and misinformation. I can only imagine what we will have to deal with in the 2024 election season, when anyone can create convincing soundbites or newsreels. 

I approach AI’s development with skepticism because, as a historian, I have studied the pitfalls of human technology and advancement. To put forth a (perhaps overused) comparison, when Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project, spoke on the atomic bomb years after its creation, he famously said: “We knew the world would not be the same.”

The developers who have created AI will not be the ones to suffer their consequences. They will get contracts, publicity and infamy. But it will be our jobs, our relationships, and our education that will be impacted the most. It will be society, us, that has to adjust to AI’s creation. 

Regardless of whether it will harm or hurt, Artificial Intelligence has been handed to the public. It is a pandora’s box that we do not know the consequences of. Only time will tell. 

Colleen McLafferty is a junior studying history at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Colleen by tweeting her at @colleenbealem.

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