United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres issued a blunt warning to the world during his opening address of the 77th General Assembly on Sept. 14, 2022.
Included in his list of “big trouble” the world faces was a “forest of red flags” in new technologies, including social media platforms that monetize rage and negativity, hate speech and data that influences our behavior and threatens our privacy. He also said Artificial Intelligence (AI) “can compromise the integrity of information systems, the media and indeed democracy itself.”
Ominous warnings indeed and here I am (full disclosure) the United Nations AI advisor!
To be sure, AI can be — and is — sometimes used for bad ends. AI is just a tool and it’s how we choose to wield it that makes the difference.
AI can affect social media and information systems through “deep fakes.” At least that’s the term for the more nefarious version of what are known in AI as “digital twins.”
A digital twin is a real-time virtual representation of a person, object, process, organization or other abstraction. It is used for many good ends, such as ACSILabs helping people do virtual reality training or digital twins in smart farming with its better productivity and sustainability practices.
It can also be used for bad purposes and by bad actors, such as deep fake representations of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky or revenge porn where people manipulate a picture of a video and spread it through social media channels. Revenge porn, in fact, represented 96 per cent of deep fakes in the world.
That’s the real problem with deep fakes. Our society moves fast and a deep fake can spread like wildfire when it goes viral and people accept it as real.
Trust is important in society. Deep fakes are trained to fool AI systems but we can use AI to detect deep fakes and to protect ourselves and our authenticity.
Threats against our democracy? That’s true, but governments around the world are making huge investments not just in AI technology but in the people who develop the use of the technology and create solutions with a focus on the social good.
In a world where poverty, homelessness, hunger and other problems are rife, AI technology is being used as a solution. It’s all about AI connecting dots — millions and millions of dots to find hidden patterns and insights for us.
Take the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative. The UN itself was a co-founder of the African initiative — an urgent call for action by all countries to improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth while taking on climate change and work to preserve our oceans and forests — and AI is key in this effort. According to a study published in Nature, AI could achieve 79 per cent of SDGs and build smart cities that use resources efficiently.
As for the media, I’ve shared how AI can be a force for good journalism that helps sustain our democracy. Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence can be used by a lone wolf media company pushing out news, sports, arts and finance information around the clock, I’ve said, citing the example of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s exposing Watergate at the Washington Post.
“With a little A.I. on their side,” I wrote in Forbes, “they might have taken down Nixon in days instead of years.”