What is AI, how does it work and what can it be used for?

What is AI, how does it work and what can it be used for?

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is developing at high speed, changing many aspects of modern life.

It seems like there are new announcements almost every day, with big players like Meta, Google and ChatGPT maker OpenAI competing for an edge with customers.

However, some experts worry that it could be used for nefarious purposes.

What is AI and how does it work?
AI allows computers to learn and solve problems almost like a human.

AI systems are trained on large amounts of information and learn to identify patterns in them, to carry out tasks such as having a human-like conversation, or predicting which products an online shopper is likely to buy.

The technology is behind voice-controlled virtual assistants Siri and Alexa, and helps Facebook and X – previously known as Twitter- decide which social media posts to show users.

AI allows Amazon to analyze customer buying habits to recommend future purchases – and the firm is also using the technology to crack down on fake reviews.

What are AI programs like ChatGPT and Midjourney?
ChatGPT and Midjourney are examples of so-called “generative” AI.

The program learns from large amounts of data, such as online text and images, to generate new content that looks as if it has been created by humans.

So-called chatbots – such as ChatGPT – can hold text conversations.

Other AI programs like Midjourney can create images from simple text commands.

Generative AI can also create videos and even produce music in the style of famous musicians.

But these programs sometimes produce inaccurate answers and images, and can reproduce biases inherent in their source material, such as sexism or racism.

Many artists, writers and entertainers have warned that such AI allows others to exploit and copy their work without payment.

The latest people to add their names to the call include Billie Eilish and Nicki Minaj, who are among 200 artists calling for an end to the use of “predatory” AI in the music industry.

Why do critics fear AI could be dangerous?
Many experts are surprised by how quickly AI has developed, and worry that its rapid growth could be dangerous. Some even say AI research should be stopped.

In 2023, the UK government published a report saying AI may soon help hackers launch cyber attacks or help terrorists plan chemical attacks.

Some experts also worry that in the future, super-intelligent AI could make humans extinct. In May, the US-based AI Security Center’s warning about this threat was backed by dozens of leading technology experts.

Similar concerns are shared by two of the three scientists known as the godfathers of AI for their pioneering research, Geoffrey Hinton and Yoshua Bengio.

But another – Yann LeCun – dismissed the idea that super-intelligent AI might take over the world as “absurd”.

EU technology chief Margrethe Vestager previously told the BBC that the potential for AI to increase bias or discrimination was a more pressing concern than futuristic concerns about AI takeover.

In particular, he is concerned about the role AI could play in making decisions that affect people’s lives such as loan applications.

In March, a black Uber Eats driver received a payment after a “racially discriminatory” facial recognition check prevented him from using the app and ultimately removed his account.

Others have criticized the environmental impact of AI.

Powerful AI systems use a lot of electricity: by 2027, one researcher suggests that collectively, they could use every year as much as a small country like the Netherlands.

What rules are there to govern AI?
The US and the UK have signed a landmark agreement to work together on testing the safety of such advanced forms of AI – the first bilateral agreement of its kind.

US President Joe Biden has also announced measures to deal with various problems that may be caused by AI.

The UK government has previously rejected setting up a dedicated AI watchdog.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants the UK to be a leader in AI security, and the country is hosting the first global summit on AI security in 2023.

Twenty-eight countries at the summit – including the UK, US, European Union and China – signed a statement on the future of AI.

It acknowledges the risk that advanced AI could be misused – for example to spread false information – but says it is also can be a force for good.

The signatories decided to work together to ensure AI is reliable and safe.

In the EU, the Artificial Intelligence Act, when it becomes law, will impose strict controls on high-risk systems.

Which jobs are at risk because of AI?
A report by investment bank Goldman Sachs suggests that AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs worldwide.

It concluded that many administrative, legal, architectural and management roles could be affected.

But it also said AI could boost the global economy by 7%.

And the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimates that up to eight million workers in the UK could be at risk of losing their jobs as technology advances.

But the technology has also been used to support workers, such as by helping doctors detect breast cancer, and developing new antibiotics.

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