EMINA MELONIC: Stop selling your humanity to AI and its creators

We live in an age of threat. Every day is a new doom and gloom, and there is always someone or something that is out there to get us. There is some truth to that, and as Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Still, it gets tiring to see everything as a threat to human existence, and lately, the focus has been on Artificial Intelligence or AI.

From ChatGPT to AI created so-called art, computerized life appears to be an inevitability. Do human beings need to start retaliating against the insane impositions of the machine? As reported by Rest of World, Silicon Valley’s tech companies are looking to hire real human beings, who are writers (be it of poetry, fiction, or plays) to help improve AI. Such companies ask of “contractors [to] write short stories on a given topic to feed them into AI models. They will also use these workers to provide feedback on the literary quality of their current AI-generated text.”

You can sell your knowledge and your soul to the machine for a whopping 13.98 to 50 dollars per hour, depending on your education level. If there is anything that resembles the notion of being a slave of a machine, this is certainly it.

The objective, it seems, is to not only scrape the Internet of its humanities-related content as much as possible, but also to scrape the minds of real people, chew them up and spit them back out in a big mash-up of wisdom and art that has long ceased to be of value. You can picture the tech companies’ Vogon bureaucrats saying, “Just the content, m’am.”

Is there really such a thing as Artificial Intelligence and can we actually call it that? One of the creators of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, does not think so. The truth is that AI can only exist with human input, therefore anything that is “created” by AI does not have the right to equate itself with human creation. In an article for The New Yorker, Lanier goes against all the doom and gloom, and the next apocalypse, and offers reasoned arguments (as well as concerns about the AI technology).

“The most pragmatic position is to think of A.I. as a tool,” writes Lanier, “not a creature. My attitude doesn’t eliminate the possibility of peril: however we think about it, we can still design and operate our new tech badly, in ways that can hurt us or even lead to our extinction. Mythologizing the technology only makes it more likely that we’ll fail to operate it well—and this kind of thinking limits our imaginations, tying them to yesterday’s dreams. We can work better under the assumption that there is no such thing as A.I. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we’ll start managing our new technology intelligently.”

Lanier is correct on several levels. First of all, to accept an apocalyptic way of thinking is to enter into despair, and thus give up on human life altogether. The entire enterprise of apocalypse begins to emit a gnostic stink, and suddenly, AI enters into a sacred category of magic and becomes a substitute for religion.

Secondly, to mythologize the technology is also to give it complete power over us. Under this rubric, AI is just another master we ought to serve. Participating in this relationship, if we can call it that, strips us of our humanity, and the machine will only go as far as human beings can take it.

Going back to the issue of hiring writers to make the AI machines more complete, we must ask how much of this has to do with economics. Will any actual writer answer this ad from the technological hell to feed something innately and singularly human to the machine? Is anyone desperate enough to take this kind of job, or is there a threshold, a line that cannot be crossed in order for us to remain human, and in order for art to remain in the sphere of the beautiful and ineffable?

Machines are tools. They can be useful but once their essence turns into something more sinister, and they begin to dehumanize us, then we must consider the facts: what are we doing to contribute to that very same dehumanization of ourselves? Free will does exist, and choosing to be free and not tethered to or at service of the machine is the first step in personal and artistic sovereignty. That is something no machine can touch or change.

Image: Title: AI