This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition .
Artificial intelligence (AI) used to be a science fiction dream.
But with seemingly intelligent systems such as ChatGPT and GPT-4 gaining popularity, it’s clear that AI will be increasingly present in our day-to-day lives, and in our children’s.
I’m not super concerned with the robot uprising just yet, but I do worry about how dependent kids might become on AI and how deeply the technology is already enmeshed in their lives.
Jill Fellows, a philosophy professor at Douglas College, says we can already see concerns with AI in things such as gender bias, presenting false information as fact and more.
“With algorithms like TikTok and Facebook, it tends to feed back to you things it already knows you are interested in. There’s potential concerns for radicalization of people there, because it sorts you into boxes with people it ‘thinks’ are like you,” says Fellows, who was co-editor of a collection of essays examining technology through an intersectional feminist lens entitled Gender, Sex and Tech!: An Intersectional Feminist Guide.
“I say ‘think,’ [but] it’s not thinking. But it can narrow your experience in certain ways so you aren’t exposed to new ideas, new arguments.”
But how much power does AI really have?
Perhaps you’ve heard of Eliza, a computer program created in the 1960s by Joseph Weizenbaum. Using a method of pattern matching, people could “converse” with Eliza, even though it was a total illusion and she had no true understanding.
But people, including researchers and scientists, were convinced of Eliza’s intelligence and understanding, despite Weizenbaum constantly explaining how that was an impossibility.
Fellows says that’s a pitfall of human nature when it comes to tech.
“We really are good at anthropomorphizing things. We can anthropomorphize a rock. We can anthropomorphize a car. We can have closer relationships with stuffed animals.
“And so now we have Chat GPT, and before that Siri and Alexa, but you can talk to them. And the minute the device starts speaking in language, there is a huge psychological tendency to form attachments, to form relationships, and that’s quite concerning.”
People, especially younger ones, look to other people for guidance, comfort and connection. Those interactions are important for learning and growth.
So, if a child feels that connection with a non-human source, the concern is that it could lead to poor social skills, or a hesitancy to reach out to friends and family for help when needed.
Rules and regulations
Parents can take some solace in the fact that for every worry or concern they have about AI, those fears and concerns are shared by the teams of researchers and developers who work on these new technologies.
As AI evolves and changes at a rapid pace, they are grappling with how to best move forward.
Aimee Kendall Roundtree, a professor at Texas State University who worked on the World Economic Forum’s AI For Children Toolkit, says it’s important to remember this isn’t the first time we’ve been concerned with the impact technology might have on us.
“Technology has always been a point of contention, curiosity and concern for parents and society since the dawn of time,” Roundtree said.
“So if you put the radio or television or the introduction of movies in this perspective, I think it contextualizes AI and this onslaught of brand new technologies [like] machine learning and deep learning.
“I think if we put it in that context it might also provide, if not assurance, just the prospect that we can live as free-thinking humans in the world alongside technology.”
And we should hold these technologies accountable, just as we would humans.
“If these technologies are meant to supplement or augment human life as we know it and they are engaging as non-human agents, with autonomy and decision-making of their own, then we need to hold them accountable for engaging in a fair, inclusive, responsible way, as we would a human agent in the world helping us make these decisions,” Roundtree said.
Rapidly changing and advancing technology can be unsettling, especially when it appears to have its own mind.
But the thing to remember about AI is that it is just one of many amazing technological advancements we have collectively witnessed and employed in our lifetimes. It can provide us with enormous benefits in medical advancements, employment and education, so long as we recognize its limits.
No, our robot overlords are not imminently about to overtake our society. But we need to make sure they don’t help bias, false information and fear do so.