Are we the frogs in AI's boiling water? The race for Artificial General Intelligence, AI's impact on the developing world, AI on your phone and more

Written by Fola Yahaya

AI Generated Image of Frog in Boiling Vase

Thought of the week

If you’ve been recently reading about or listening to any AI-related content you’ll probably have heard about Amara’s “law” which states that:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

To me this sums up a growing sense that, as I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, we’re like the frog in boiling water – we can feel things heating up but for the majority of us knowledge workers AI is just a scarily efficient way to complete the largely BS admin tasks we shouldn’t need to do in the first place.

But this complacency worries me, especially after listening to the audiobook version of Kai Fu Lee’s “AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future” during an intense AI deep dive last weekend. Written in 2021, it presents a Black Mirror-esque vision of how the world will be in 2041. What struck me was that elements of his fairly dire predictions such as the loss of privacy seem like they are already here in 2024. He also talks extensively about a really scary AI technology called robotic process automation (RPA) which is explicitly designed to replace 40-70% of entry-level jobs in areas like accounting and human resources. RPA tools are like being shadowed by an intern for a few hours, who silently watches what you do, learns how to do it better, faster (and critically cheaper) and then makes you redundant.

The inexorable march towards AGI

Tweet from Mark Zuckerburg on building General Intelligence

Meta announced that it’s buying $9 billion worth of GPUs (the engines that drive AI) so that it can achieve Artificial General intelligence (AGI) faster. AGI, when machines are smarter than us (rather than just being very good at predicting what we want to read) is the goal that all the key tech players are trying to score. The brain behind ChatGPT, Ilya Sutskever gave a memorable TED talk about this in Oct 2023 (I was going to post the video of it but his delivery is so robotic it might leave you feeling that he is in fact an AGI-powered robot (link here anyway).

This snippet sums up the promise of AGI and gives a flavour of where we’re headed.

“The example I want to present is healthcare. Many of you may have had the experience of trying to go to a doctor. You need to wait for many months, sometimes, and then when you do get to see a doctor, you get a very small, limited time with the doctor. And, furthermore, the doctor, being only human, can have only limited knowledge of all the medicine knowledge that exists. And then by the end of it you get a very large bill. If you have an intelligent computer, an AGI, that is built to be a doctor, it will have complete and exhaustive knowledge of all medical literature, it will have billions of hours of clinical experience and it will be always available and extremely cheap. When this happens, we will look back at today’s healthcare similarly to how we look at 16th century dentistry, you know when they tied people to belts and had this drill, that’s how today’s healthcare will look like. This is just one example. AGI will have a dramatic and incredible impact on every single area of human activity.”

There’s a lot of fear and positive spin around AI, but Ilya does point to how broken so many of our service delivery systems are. AI can be revolutionary in so many ways precisely because human stupidity knows no bounds. For example, we live in a world where 1 billion don’t have enough food and 1 billion eat too much, most people are dissatisfied with their economic lot and where we have yet another major war in Europe. The promise of AI is clear, the question is whether we’re ‘smart enough’ to use it well.

Google releases a breakthrough in text to video

Google has released a teaser paper on a new technique for creating video from a simple text prompt. Expect a blizzard of poorly thought out content and further price pressure on creative, but inconsequential communications.

More research on AI’s impact on jobs – real and worse for the developed world

For most people on the planet the coming A(i)mageddon is the least of the problems. According to the IMF, the impact on developing countries will be minimal because AI is designed for well ordered, digitised economies. When I worked at the UN back in the mid 1990s there was a lot of nonsense about AI levelling the playing field. The same crap is being said now, but one thing I agree with is that AI on mobile phones does make expert education and advice (see the section below about Indian farmers) far more accessible to the bottom billion. The only problem is it won’t enable many to do much with their new found knowledge.

Bar Graph showing the impact of AI on jobs

On device AI

One of my top (and bullet-proof) predictions for AI in 2024 was more on-device AI. Samsung are the first out of the gate with their S24. From an AI perspective the interesting thing is the translation feature. Such a feature has been much hyped and swiftly ignored by most consumers before, but the new version seems closer to the real deal. I know how hard it is to learn a language, but I really hope this is not another nail in the coffin for multilingualism.

A medical chatbot that out empathises doctors

A new study in Nature shows that AMIE, a Google chatbot, diagnosed heart and lung conditions more accurately than doctors in online healthcare. More surprisingly, the chatbot ranked higher on empathy – a trait considered beyond AI’s reach in Kai Fu Lee’s book. For me, this is yet another case of a) researchers/techies not understanding what empathy is. Would you really want to be told that you have 6 months to live by ChatGPT!? b) that there are probably lots of clinicians that could improve their bedside manner ;-). But for diagnostics, AI will fill the currently massive void touched on above by Ilya of the impossibility of getting useful, natural language advice, based on your medical history, instantly and cheaply.

A GIF of a conversation with the AI tool on AMIE

More interesting AI news

How AI is creating the Liar’s Dividend – great article from the Washington Post (paywalled) but the gist is that AI-generated content is increasingly used to spread misinformation, particularly in the political arena. AI deep fakes are now so convincing that they are destabilising the concept of truth itself, offering a ‘liar’s dividend’ where real misconduct can be plausibly denied. Basically, everything can now justifiably be called “fake news”.

Poorly Deepfaked image of Putin with Donald and Melania Trump

Google’s Chrome 3 browser is getting new generative AI features including “help me write”. The blurb says“…whether you want to leave a well-written review for a restaurant, craft a friendly RSVP for a party or make a formal inquiry about an apartment rental. To get started, right-click a text box or field on any site you visit in Chrome and select “Help me write.”

Google Chromes 3 browser

How AI helped Indian farmers make more money and reduce pesticide – digital advisory service in India helped farmers make more money and reduce pesticide –

World Economic Forum page on AI for Agriculture

AI tools that we’re playing with this week

Suno.AI – a popular text to music generator

Visual Electric – still my favourite and easiest to use image generation tool for creatives.

20 useful Midjourney prompts to help you ‘emulate’ your favourite photographers

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