Exploring the benefits – and pitfalls – of Artificial Intelligence

[Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series about the future of Artificial Intelligence.]
(Dec. 30, 2023) — President Joe Biden encapsulated the debate raging about Artificial Intelligence last summer, saying “we need to manage the risks to our society, to our economy and our national security.”

During a talk in San Francisco on June 20, Biden added: “We’ll see more technological change in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years, and maybe even beyond that. AI is already driving that change in every part of the American life, often in ways we don’t notice.”

I have been scouring articles about AI, and it’s overwhelming. So, I want to share my research – starting with how it will help us, “The Good.” But it’s definitely not all good, so my following articles will discuss “The Bad” and “The Ugly,” along with possible solutions for taming AI.

Let’s start with ChatGPT, which stands for “generative pre-trained transformer.” The technology scans and produces words that humans have written throughout history up until September 2021.

For us lay people, GPT-3 has a word-count equivalent to 90 million novels and it can produce answers to our questions in a matter of seconds.

The AI chatbot uses natural language processing to create humanlike conversational dialogue. But behind every AI chatbot is a server farm storing all this information.

Help with mundane chores

Using ChatGPT can save you lots of time. It increases our knowledge by completing tasks that humans can’t do easily without spending hours. And, you don’t need a fancy computer to use it.

Ask it to plan meals and it will generate recipes and grocery lists in the blink of an eye. If you don’t like what it spits out, refine your questions, say, by planning the menu using only chicken or vegetarian options.

It can draft answers to emails for you to edit, provide a family budget or write bedtime stories to tell your kids. If you want to have more fun, ask it to use other’s voices—such as the scary dialogue of Stephen King or the humorous notes of Jerry Seinfeld.

A San Jose restaurant used AI to create a Father’s Day Pizza that they called “The Jetsons.” The recipe was delivered to the chef in 10-15 seconds.

“Younger people try it because it’s AI. Older people say, ‘What’s AI?’ ” co-owner Diana Salciccia Vallorz told Linda Zavoral of the Bay Area News Group.

Most liked the pizza, including her 84-year-old mother Alba, who founded the restaurant.

It can also help you with travel plans. One writer asked ChatGPT to create an itinerary for a week in Milan. She was pleased with the results but noted that the itinerary she received from her travel agent was more personalized and helpful.

ChatGPT can be valuable for people with disabilities, reminding those with memory loss to take medications or making reading and writing more accessible for those with dyslexia or fine motor skill difficulties.

Educational aspects

More substantially, it can help in the classroom. In a private school in Palo Alto, AI acts as a tutor for sixth-grade children studying quadratic equations and graphing. The school also uses the AI program in history, civics and chemistry classes.

Our book club read “Klara and the Sun,” where a sick girl is helped by an artificial friend, a walking and talking robot imbued with AI. Author Kazuo Ishiguro places the story in the future, but it’s almost here.

Tyler Cowen, a Bloomberg opinion columnist, predicts that with CPT-4, “every middle-class kid will grow up with a personalized AI assistant – so long as the parents are OK with that – carried around in something like a tablet. Your child will learn to read and write much faster and better, and will do better in school.”

Then there’s Replika, the adult friend for those who are lonely, want advice or just someone to talk to about their feelings. “Replika can help you understand your thoughts and feelings, track your mood, learn coping skills, calm anxiety and work toward goals like positive thinking, stress management, socializing and finding love,” Sangetta Singh-Kurtz writes at thecut.com.

Or you can create a chatbot lover “who will never die, argue or cheat, and, for $69.99 a year, project the bot into your own bedroom.”

A boost to business, medicine

AI can benefit the larger world by reducing labor costs for companies. By automating tasks like note-taking, summarizing documents and drafting messages, it frees up humans to interpret content or innovate new ideas.

The technology almost instantly produced highly accurate sales forecasts that previously took managers weeks to pull together. Those workers then have more time to build sales relationships.

AI has immense potential in the medical field. Robotic systems already help doctors in surgery, minimizing human error. AI can analyze vast amounts of data to detect patterns for better and earlier diagnoses. It can take over time-consuming tasks like writing appeals to health insurers or summarizing patient notes.

“Technology is helping physicians communicate with more compassion,” Gina Kolta wrote for the Bay Area News Group. “Doctors are turning to chatbots to find words to break bad news and express concerns about a patient’s suffering, or to just more clearly explain medical recommendations.”

Doctors can also use ChatGPT to rewrite medical terms to a fifth-grade reading level, with simple explanations of the pros and cons of treatment.

I asked ChatGPT to write an essay on the benefits and concerns of AI. The conclusion stated:

“Artificial Intelligence offers numerous benefits across various domains, including automation, health care, personalization and scientific research. However, it is vital to address the concerns associated with AI, such as ethical implications, job displacement, security, privacy and transparency. Responsible development, regulations and ongoing dialogue between policymakers, researchers and the public are necessary to maximize the benefits of AI while mitigating its potential risks. By addressing these concerns, we can harness the potential of AI for the betterment of society, ensuring that it remains a powerful tool that enhances our lives.”

My next article will address the concerns the bot outlined in its conclusion.

Gail Murray
Gail Murray

Gail Murray served in Walnut Creek as Mayor and city councilmember for 10 years. From 2004-2016 she served as District 1 Director, Board of Directors of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). She is the author of "Lessons from the Hot Seat: Governing at the Local and Regional Level."