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Is AI a force for good In Malaysia?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to intelligence demonstrated by machines. It’s representation in the media often involves existential questions of whether we could coexist with intelligent machines. Recent years have seen an exponential growth in the developments of AI bringing us closer to the future envisioned by movies of past. Whether a dystopian or utopian future will come to fruition depends on the choices we make today. As such, Malaysia has to be at the forefront in tackling these issues. This articles aims to address key developments in AI questioning they’re place in society.

One AI model that has been making the rounds on Twitter is ChatGPT. It is a chatbot that gained popularity for its ability to answer questions and write essays, think google that can do your homework. Beyond that, it can also write poems, songs lyrics and the scripts based off a simple prompt, and its scarily good.

The clear problematic use case is in an academic context. Alwyn Lau, lecturer at UCSI university noted that inputting an essay question he’d given his students into ChatGPT gave a reasonably good answer. It also gives varied answers based on the same prompt which may prove troublesome for plagiarism detectors. However, this is not a new issue with essay writing services pre-existing ChatGPT. I think this chatbot will prove useful in supplementing writing by providing ideas which can be elaborated on.

Here lies the biggest fear in my eyes – would AI make creative jobs redundant? We experienced a similar phenomenon with the automation of labour. Clear examples are the replacement of grocery store cashiers with self checkout machines and the increased use of robots in industry. One area that we have always assumed humans held a monopoly on is creativity. However, even that is being challenged.

Image produced by DALLE

DALLE is an AI model that can generate images based on any prompt. It is fed terabytes of data from the internet and learns how to make art. Other than being a display of what machines are capable of, it does bring us closer to one question: What if AI eventually makes better art than us? will artists face the same fate as grocery cashiers? My optimistic view is that this will not be the case.

The fight between then world chess champion Gary Kasparov and the supercomputer Deep Blue in 1996 saw robots overtaking humans in chess. Having said that, chess competitions still continued. We have always had an innate interest in the human endeavour, what is capable in the confines of our mind. I believe that DALLE will play a similar role to chess computers in that we can learn from it and improve our own creativity.

The previous examples are recent and their impacts are yet to be seen. AI already plays a large role in our lives through social media. The algorithms of social media like TikTok and Twitter actively learns your preferences based on what engages you. This results in echo chambers where you are only exposed to content and ideas that fit your world view. This is particularly alarming as short-form video platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts are used by the majority of children and young adults where 41% of Malaysians using TikTok are between 16 and 24.

I think Malaysia should take a firm stance on this issue. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. The Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin is massively different from the one shipped to other countries. For kids under the age of 14, they are restricted to a version of Douyin that prioritises exposure to educational content and limits use to 40 minutes a day. This does not exist for other countries. It’s as if they know the power of their platform in shaping the minds of the future generation. This is reflected in a survey of aspirational careers among pre teens. In the US, number one was influencer whereas in China, it is astronaut. It is thus important that Malaysia pushes for legislation that enforces a mandatory modification of social media for children.

So far, we’ve discussed more polarising use cases for AI. It is worth mentioning the many benefits of its implementation. Some healthcare providers in Malaysia already utilise AI to help analyse medical data, such as patient records and imaging scans, to assist doctors in making accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. AI is also used in education through virtual learning assistants. These assistants use machine learning algorithms to give personalised support to students, improving their leaning outcomes.

In fact, there is likely a use case for AI in any industry you can think of. Businesses can benefit by optimising supply chain and logistic operations reducing costs and improving delivery times. Analysis of data can help identify trends in fields such as environmental science helping tackle climate change and deforestation. Public safety can also be improved through analysis of surveillance footage to identify suspicious activity. If the trade off for all these benefits is man versus robot Armageddon, I’d say it was a decent trade.

Whether we like it or not, AI is here to stay. I believe that it is a powerful tool that can be a force for good in society. Like any tool, it can also be used maliciously which is why it is important that we have these conversations today. One philosopher was quoted saying “The power of AI is both a blessing and a curse, with its potential to revolutionise industries and improve our lives tempered by the potential for misuse and abuse”. The philosopher in question is ChatGPT.

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