"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, June 21, 2024

Artificial Intelligence - Happily, Reality Is Disappearing And Only Lawyers Care

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here and here to stay.  Within a generation not only will there be no distinction between what is real and what is not, what is truth and what is fiction, and what is virtual and what is substance. What's more, no one will care.  In fact we will prefer a virtual world in which we can create, define, and configure our own reality. 

Once the interface between mind and computer has become seamless - i.e. when our electronically mediated thoughts can roam as far and wide as the timeless, boundless world of electronic information, images, experiences, and sensations - no one will ever choose brick and mortar again.  Why would we exchange a world we have created, filled with the sights and sounds chosen from the limitless world of virtual possibilities, for the here and now?

Impossible! is the usual reaction to this inevitable scenario. Many cannot give up the idea that this place, this earth, this God-created life is more valuable - priceless in fact - than any electronic creation.  Those who object to AI, demand a halt on its development and expansion, and who worry about its of society have already missed the train. 


Beware, they say.  AI will scour the Internet for data to fuel its essays, scripts, and paintings.  It will steal from others, abridge copyrights, and worst of all, mine fake news, synthesizing, harmonizing, and packaging it into a seductive, irresistible package. 

AI products, the naysayers go on, will be like the phony credit swaps of Wall Street - bundled securities with triple A mortgages on the top of a mountain of junk, all sold at a premium.  The Internet is similarly filled with distortion, misinformation, and creatively deceptive content. AI mines it, homogenizes it, puts a few actually verifiable tidbits in the showcase window, and sells the whole corrupted mess of fantastical nonsense as the truth. 

Yet already society has moved to a post-verifiable world.  Even the most lame amateur understands what Browning, Kurosawa, and Durrell and a thousand trial attorneys already knew - perception is a subjective enterprise.  The Alexandria Quartet is all about events seen from four different perspectives, all sworn to be accurate but contradictory and wildly different.  Four eyewitnesses of a crime see it in four different ways - a black man at the wheel, an Asian, a white; two guns, no guns; a man in a fright wig, a woman; a Ford, a Toyota; green, metallic blue. 


Our memories are frail, and research has concluded that most of them do not describe things as they actually happened but are confections of our emotionally-driven need for them and the add-ons of others - what Uncle Harry said about the event at Aunt Leona's Christmas dinner not really what took place. 

No one cares about how much confabulation is in the stump speeches of politicians.  It is what they represent, what they mean and the rest is all just Sturm und Drang, vaudeville, and three-ring circus acts. 

A virtual world requires no governors, no brakes on imagination.  Reality need not interfere with fantasy.  The worlds created by our own minds, mediated by the computer to give access to the infinite variety of history will have no bounds.  Reality will be over and done with. 

There will be a new partnership in the coming AI world.  The machine - that great collector of data, the synthesizer, the sophisticated master of human cognition, insight, creativity, and brilliance - will allow for the elision from brick and mortar to virtuality.  People at first fearful of letting some robot take over their lives, will eventually be complaisant, then accepting, and then happy.  Let the real world disappear at the 'hands' of the machine, and let us roam within its virtual universe. 

But whoa! Not so easy and not so fast.  Rights and the truth must be protected.  AI is a cybernetic thief in the night, stealing at will, disregarding long-established norms of honest and propriety.  It a a fox in the henhouse, a wolf in the forest, a carrion bird on the veldt - a sniper, a sapper, a con artist.  

A writer who reflects on his reading of all of Shakespeare plays and as the Bard intended, sees the relevance of Lear, Richard III, Cleopatra, or Hamlet to contemporary life and creates a novel about driven, tormented, jealous-minded men is seen as brilliant, insightful, creative

An AI tool which does the same thing - scans and records every line of Shakespeare, and using intelligent programmed algorithms to extract meaning and relevance, and then writes a book about the incessant greed of modern life - is suspect.  It has stolen from Shakespeare.  Huh? 

The rub of it is that the AI generated novel is better than the old-fashioned one and is bought up in thousands. However the proceeds to the company that owns ChatGPT are considered ill-gotten gains

All of which means the vast money-making enterprise of the law begins work.  Copyright infringement! charge the phalanx of lawyers seeing gold in civil court. 'Treachery...insult to the American working man' shout Congressmen who rush to pass punitive laws on the expansion of AI.  We must do the right thing for the American people. 

Yet lawmakers are just putting their fingers in the dike, hoping to hold off the flood.  They are trying to put the genie back in the bottle, return to the 19th century of iron and steel, cogs and gears. Lawyers are just trying to make a killing before it is realized that information is no longer proprietary.  Everything is in the public domain. 

What's new about that? Nothing is private in our age of cookies when every keystroke, every conversation, every click of the mouse becomes someone else's.  Just like reality, the idea of privacy no longer has meaning. 

Yet there is still time, say lawyers and lawmakers.  Money to be made, elections to be won.  The courts are already filling up with frivolous copyright lawsuits, challenging AI companies, trying to turn back the tide.  Thieves, intellectual brigands, wolves in sheep's clothing, prosecutors shout. THERE IS SUCH A THING AS THE TRUTH! 


Of course this is all just whistlin' Dixie, blowing in the wind.  There is money to be made before the whole idea of what is changes to what might be.  Like every other innovation - the telephone, the car, the computer - Chicken Little, Sky Is Falling prophets warn of coming AI disaster but no one this time is paying attention. 

And just wait until genetic engineering has had its way with the human genome.  The post-human, altered generation, unrecognizable to past ones is on its way.  A double dose of reality bending. The lawyers and lawmakers will be busy. 

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