The Fluid Society

AI in search engines: a threat or opportunity?

At the moment there is quite some discussion about the pros and cons of AI: Artificial Intelligence. Recently, Microsoft bought ChatGPT an AI system that generates a detailed and reasoned answer based on questions, worded in such a way that it looks like an expert with a lot of knowledge has responded. Microsoft plans to link the system to their search system, with the result that Internet searches will become even more successful, that difficult questions can be asked to which reasoned and balanced answers will be provided as well as complete texts that are ready for immediate publication. Thus a revolution in the world of search engines is guaranteed.  

Meanwhile, students are already using ChatGPT to generate thesis papers, while journalists are experimenting with articles written by ChatGPT. Thousands of people are currently testing out the system for answers to smart questions. For example, people are experimenting with putting together individualized trips that intelligently respond to the customer’s desire, meanwhile producing a complete travel brochure. Or people can search for optimal living and working environments based on their input. Or you can have articles written on numerous topics, with which you are concerned. Writing texts for articles, however long or complicated, may become very easy and could easily displace a large category of journalists or communication staff or even informative magazines.

In short: everything to do with writing, which is important in almost every field, will be violently stirred by this new technology. But that was already true, in the old days, with the advent of the word processor, which made a category of secretaries redundant and stimulated job changes. The same thing happened  with the advent of search engines, which made reference books and encyclopedias suddenly obsolete and also turned the world of travel and the world of daily and weekly newspapers upside down. Is there any reason why, other than the availability of yet another new technology to get accustomed to , we should consider AI a threat to society?

The devil, of course, is primarily in the suggestion evoked by the name of this technology. The term “artificial intelligence.” Well artificial it certainly is, it’s an ingenious system of algorithms that does at breakneck speed what humans take years of monk’s labor to do. But the key question is: Is there intelligence here? One can rightly doubt it. Eager developers are trying to convince everyone that this technology is capable of things that humans themselves are not capable of, so AI systems will outperform humans in numerous areas. And they are partly right too.

Computers can play chess better than humans because the game involves fixed algorithms in a limited context. Undoubtedly medical AI systems, for example, can also make more accurate diagnoses than doctors, at least as far as checking all kinds of possible causes of a condition is concerned. After all, no physician can possess all the knowledge that can lead to a diagnosis, which a medical AI system, if properly designed, can have. And who, nowadays, does not go to the doctor with an unclear disease without having already made a Google search of what it could be? Undoubtedly AI systems linked to search systems can also provide information and background knowledge in the legal, technical and educational fields that can be of great help to professionals in their work. And that, moreover, in beautiful, clear text. What about automatically generated instructions for use of appliances, for example?

But that still does not answer the question of whether or not we are dealing with an intelligent system. I would like to define intelligence more broadly than being able to play complex games, which after all have fixed rules, or to figure things out in a well-ordered way (making diagnoses for example). Associated with what most people consider intelligent are the concepts of consciousness, creativity and emotion. Capabilities of the mind that is able to interpret a subject in a broader context, to express the emotional side in addition to rationality, to establish relationships between subjects, which by nature are not interconnected. All things which a computer is not or will not become capable of  in the near future.

The question now is whether a computer that plays chess better than a chess master is more intelligent than the chess master. One might say that in the limited context of chess, the computer is more intelligent than the chess master. But that same computer is certainly not more intelligent than the chess master in many other areas. It therefore seems incorrect to say that a computer is more intelligent than a chess master. 

But what does the computer itself think about this issue ? ChatGPT asked about the intelligence computers themselves gives the following answer:

” As for computers, the question of whether they can be considered intelligent is still a matter of debate among experts. Some argue that computers can be considered intelligent to the extent that they can perform tasks that would normally require human-level intelligence, such as playing complex games like chess or Jeopardy. However, others argue that true intelligence requires not just the ability to perform specific tasks, but also things like consciousness, emotions, and subjective experiences, which computers currently lack. 

Ultimately, whether a computer can be considered intelligent is a matter of perspective and depends on how one defines intelligence. But it is generally agreed that computers are not intelligent in the sense that they have their own thoughts, feelings, or consciousness, but rather they are a system of algorithms that can process information and produce outputs based on their programming”

So much for ChatGPT. The conclusion must be that AI, artificial intelligence, is artificial but not intelligent based on the broader definition mentioned above. In that sense, it is a misleading term born of the enthusiasm of AI’s inventors. But whatever we may think of AI’s intelligence, the question remains: does AI as a part of search engines pose a threat to society or humanity? Should we place restrictions on the use of these systems from a government perspective because of a potential danger to society? At this point it may be too early to take a firm position in this matter. What is certain is that it will substantially affect the world of “writing man ” in the coming years. The way things go hundreds of newspapers and magazines will have many articles written automatically (like my question about intelligence to ChatGPT) and thus thousands fewer journalists will be needed. The education system will be hit hard if more and more pupils and students start using these techniques for their papers. Something that will happen irrevocably unless educational institutions worldwide, en masse, would start banning AI, which seems fairly unthinkable in today’s world.  Perhaps it will hit some civil service positions in government or institutions, as PR, communications or editing departments can make do with fewer people. 

There is another aspect of AI in search engines that needs attention. At a time when the world is already affected by numerous forms of misinformation or fake news, the world will be turned even more upside down by texts that appear to come from a particular person or institution in terms of style and editing, but are in actual fact falsely generated by a system like ChatGPT. The world of misinformation is bound to become even more complex with the advent of this phenomenon. In general, the matter of misinformation definitely needs attention from politicians. After all, a great many people are drawn into information traps or buried under incorrect information, are thus manipulated which increasingly  leads to erosion of the rule of law and democracy. AI in search engines thus adds another dimension to societal instability, which politicians must pay attention to in order to protect citizens. But in itself, the potential abuse of AI in search engines is not substantially different from other forms of misinformation and should be addressed from the same perspective.

However, the question is, if it sticks to AI as a  refined feature of search engines, and that is what it looks like for now, whether this phenomenon will substantially affect society. What seems certain is that, as with the advent of the word processor and search engines, a good number of functions in society will be affected, disappear or change. In the case of AI in search engines, this could be a multiplication  of what word processors and search engines “old style” brought about. The question, therefore, is how to deal with this development. We can observe that when social media came along, society just let it happen. However, it has had gigantic social consequences, which  are still being felt to this day. A similar observation applies to the advent of cyber currency. That too has had an extraordinary impact on the financial world, drawing in cyber crime and fortune hunters. And it is currently very difficult to get the Pandora’s box of social media or crypto currencies closed again. Perhaps this time, with yet another new breakthrough technology, it would be wise to be a little less naive. It seems prudent to immediately start closely monitoring the effects of AI in search systems at the international or at least the European level,. Setting up an international monitoring committee is not too costly and could help inform politicians and society in the coming period about what is happening. Should it turn out that very undesirable social effects are occurring, a European Commission, whether or not in consultation with the U.S. and other countries, can decide to intervene. In any case, what the arrival of AI in search engines makes clear is that digital technologies have an intense effect on society and that more attention to this on the part of politicians is required.

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