Opinion: Could anti-AI backlash indicate a new Luddite era?

photo by: Tribune Content Agency

Clarence Page

Striking Hollywood writers are nervous about artificial intelligence — also known as AI — and I’m not feeling so good myself.

When I see all those bright, clever and mostly young talents out on the picket lines, I cannot help but ask myself: Could we columnists be next?

The strike by the Writers Guild of America, their first since their 2007-08 walkout that lasted 100 days, has brought a new fascinating and troubling issue to the forefront: AI.

The promise of AI has long boggled our human minds. Like putting humans on the moon, the idea of artificial intelligence has been dreamed about for ages — sometimes nightmarishly in forms as varied as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” or HAL the computer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Now in an age that has seen astounding acceleration in the output of scientific and technological innovations, we suddenly look up and see artificial intelligence is upon us, producing new wonders by the day, as well as new and troubling questions.

We are beginning to bear witness to a new unease at the thought that these innovations might make millions of jobs held by flesh-and-blood humans obsolete.

In other words, could the anti-AI backlash in the WGA indicate a new Luddite phase?

You may recall the original Luddites from your history classes. They were a reaction in the industrial revolution to machines competing with human workers during a period of great social and economic change in England in the early 19th century.

Outraged workers rose up and began to destroy the machines. Fearing the worst, the WGA asked in its latest contract proposal that the entertainment industry agree not to use AI to replace writers. Not surprisingly, the industry declined, agreeing only to “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.” That rang alarm bells in writers rooms across the industry,

Should similar alarms be rung by us in the opinion-writing punditocracy?

We’ve seen such backlash movements rise up with varying degrees of ferocity on the heels of numerous innovations in a wide variety of industries.

Perhaps now, when not just human muscles but human brains are in a new competition, could it be artists and writers who have their turn as leaders of a backlash?

Since I, too, as a career scribe, have reason to feel competition from the possibility of artificial intelligence competing with whatever intelligence I try to bring to the columnists’ trade, I have delved, however cautiously into the AI world already available on the internet.

Curious, I gave an audition to the pioneer AI called ChatGPT with a typical pundit question:

“Should I trust Donald Trump?”

Without prompting from me, the chatbot instantly responded with an almost-scolding explainer:

“As an AI language model, I don’t have personal opinions or beliefs,” it said. “Trust is a subjective judgment that varies from person to person. The level of trust you have in Donald Trump, or any individual, depends on your own assessment of their character, actions, and track record.

“It’s important to note,” it went on, “that public figures, including politicians, can be viewed differently by different people. Donald Trump, as the former President of the United States, has both supporters and critics. His policies, statements, and behavior during his time in office have been a subject of much debate and controversy.

“When evaluating someone’s trustworthiness, it’s often helpful to consider multiple perspectives, examine their actions and statements, and review objective information and facts. This allows you to form a more informed opinion based on your own values and priorities.”

Well, thanks a lot, chatbot, but your on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand equivocating would be dismissed as hopelessly wishy-washy by most readers.

Perhaps we should talk about it in the way journalists traditionally do, over your favorite beverage, whatever octane that might be.

— Clarence Page is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency.


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