Algorithm & Blues

Artificial Intelligence (AI), like every discovery or invention since we stood on our hind legs has the capacity to do great things and not-so-great things.

And like fire, the wheel, nuclear energy and the internet before it, the uses for AI are on the way to becoming so ubiquitous they’ll soon barely register, or be seen as remarkable.

AI offers plenty of wonderful opportunities. Of course, like any system if you put crap in, you get crap out. So when we are loading up the virtual doctors for appointments to ease the pressure on their real-life counterparts, we’d better make sure all possible diagnosis are loaded. And the failsafe for when the real doctors need to take over.

Removing emotional elements has its benefits. Where there are absolute truths or strictly binary options, logic will drive outcomes. Where we don’t need or want a chat, the bots can give us all the information and answers without any fluff.

It’s a while since the most exciting thing we could do was to book a hotel, flight or pub lunch online. The banking Apps have made our finances more fluid than ever, without setting foot inside a bank or getting our hands grubby with cash.

2023 has also see the tantalising prospect of early cancer detection appearing on the horizon too, The Royal Marsden, together with Institute of Cancer Research and Imperial College London have produced evidence of algorithm-driven results that exceed all that has been possible to date. That’s the kind of thing that really would make us embrace the Doc Bots.

The passage from manual to automation has always been a fractious one. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the threats of redundancy and people being replaced out of their jobs have been a constant fear. Bank closures and High Street stalwarts collapsing due to online retail have been the latest version of “the world’s going to hell in a handcart”.

Bemoaning the loss of the old ways used to be the sad refrain from pensioners, resentful of a world accelerating beyond their comfort. Now the Boomers are joined by Gen X and even Gen Y are seeing their waking certainties falling by the wayside, as progress marches relentlessly on.

Some of the smartest decisions made across the generations have been those that chose to learn the trades of electrician, plumber, plasterer et al. In constant demand and making a good living, as the general population loses the practical life skills one by one. Water coming through your ceiling? There’s definitely not an App for that…

Overall, there’s little point trying to resist the onward march. And we need to remember we asked for this. This version of the world has been created with our complicit approval and encouragement. We wanted everything 24/7. We wanted to shop from our phones for everything, anytime. I’ve spoken about the negative impact on decent customer service before, here.

The aspect of AI that presents a real challenge is the scary brilliance of media files. And yes, of course there’s an Orwell quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four to fit:

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

When Arnie’s face was transposed onto another combatant in Running Man, when Forrest Gump shook hands with JFK, we saw the fledgling fantasy fakes blurring and blending facts with fiction. They seem so primitive now.

In Wag the Dog, Dustin Hoffman created an artificial war for Robert de Niro’s presidential right-hand man. Just long enough to get the president re-elected. Fake prime time new stories, fake video imagery, Willie Nelson commissioned to write a new ‘old classic’ song taken up by the nation.

The public were shown as buying into it. Surely that couldn’t happen, right?

The deep fake videos circulating online still have some jarring elements, but they are nearing the point where they’ll soon be flawless. It’s not an issue when these can be called out on the same day. But as the distance between the witness and the event grows – and the witnesses are no longer reliable or even still around – those clips may acquire credibility. Particularly within secret services or subversive agents who play the long game.

Imagine an exceptionally gifted software genius – assisted by AI – reworking an historic video. Taking library pictures of a public figure and adding ‘previously unavailable audio remarks’. That scene with Forrest Gump saying he needed a pee and JFK repeating it with perfect timing could be the crude blueprint of what’s to come.

Vladimir Putin has been rather shaky on recent media appearances. Shades of Brezhnev in his zombie years, when he was wheeled out to wave and then wheeled back in again.

In a place like Russia where traditional as well as social media has been throttled by the state, deep fake videos, perfected with AI nuances – Vladimir need ever appear again. Speeches by Vlad the Vid could be made to order, for years. A well-paid lookalike to make distanced appearances in public (wouldn’t be the first time) could see him ‘ruling’ Russia beyond his capacity to do so.

As the world has descended into a dangerously fractious time, any kind of agreement on the rules of the game for AI seem fanciful. The US, EU, UK and other allies can legislate. But when countries withdraw from non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaties, you can’t see them uniting against a potentially very useful propaganda tool.

Artificial Intelligence is here to stay. There are profits to be made. And yes, there are some very useful functions that can bring benefits to humanity. And the thought that ABBA could appear on the ‘Welcome to 2100’ show is quite something.

For we, the masses – we’d all like to think we wouldn’t be fooled. We’d all like to think that ultimately, we would see though a fake story. But as the technology improves and our capacity & appetite for critical thinking diminishes, we may end up complicit in this too – and just be kidding ourselves.

Your servant,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s