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Harnessing AI for Good

AI is a topic that has scarcely been out of the news in the past 6 months since the release of ChatGPT 30 November 2022. The sheer speed of change has taken the world by storm; even the most AI savvy entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, who in her recent interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme, admitted to having been blindsided by developments in this sphere.

The release of ChatGPT, OpenAi’s text generating Chatbot has given developers, and indeed almost anybody the ability to work with it. Microsoft’s plan is to infuse AI and ChatGPT into everything (Forbes, Mar 6, 2023). Microsoft has made a £10 billion investment in OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT chatbot, and it has already integrated the technology into its Bing search engine, and it will soon be infused into Word and Excel. This means that we will, in theory, be able to converse with Microsoft applications to ask them to draft a letter or create a spreadsheet, instead of manually interacting with them with, a keyboard or touch screen.

The speed of change is immense and, not surprisingly, there has been a call for a halt in the release of further products from US President, Joe Biden, and on 3 May 2023, the FT reported that Google Artificial Intelligence pioneer Geoffrey Hinton had left Google after more than a decade, citing fears about the rapid development of generative AI. Hilton said “he quit to speak freely about the dangers of AI’’.

In March, Elon Musk and more than 1,000 tech researchers and executives called for a six-month ‘’pause’’ on the development of advanced AI systems to halt what they call a ‘’dangerous arms race”.

Geoffrey Hinton also said that “he was concerned the race between Google and Microsoft to launch AI-driven products would push forward the development of AI without the appropriate ‘guardrails’ and ‘regulations’ being in place”. Hinton also voiced concerns that AI could surpass human intelligence, which he now believed was coming faster than he had expected.

This is the very fact that Turing alluded to in 1930 and again in 1950 - that there would become a point in machine learning and intelligence when the machines would be more intelligent than humans and ultimately, they would take control (Stuart Russell, Reith lectures, BBC, 22 Dec 2021).

Looking back to the first Reith Lecture by Stuart Russell (22 Dec 2021), which points you to the origination of AI and the Turing test. Russell explained that Turing was the first to work with “algorithms” and “machine learning” and realised from his work that there would be such a point when machines overtake humans in their ability. This is the very worry for ‘the now’, which is being expressed by Hilton, Elon Musk and many more. Have the recent advancements in AI put us at such a tipping point?

Meanwhile Martha Lane Fox suggests in her interview (5 May 2023, BBC Today R4) that as ChatGPT and “Bard” from Google is firmly in the marketplace, we should all be experimenting and working with them to see what they can do. But she is also very wary of the power of these tools that have been placed in our hands.

Others have expressed that by training our chatbots and devices vocally, we are giving machines the ability to mimic our commands to access information and perform other tasks on our behalf, therefore we are unwittingly, handing over our power to machines!

Goldman Sachs has predicted that the use of Microsoft’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard and other chatbots could eventually reduce the number of employees required worldwide by 300 million. These jobs will be lost because of artificial intelligence or jobs will be degraded by AI (Forbes 31st Mar 2023). However, it is not all doom and gloom as automation has also historically created more innovation - that leads to the need for different types of jobs. The surge in new jobs and the reduction in more traditional jobs will increase Global GDP by 7%. (Goldman Sachs). AI is already being used in the drive to diagnose cancer and other health issues. Banks now use sophisticated software to check for fraud and non-compliance. AI is also being harnessed to control driverless cars, news feeds, social media, and job applications.

From a travel perspective there are a rash of new companies emerging off the back of OpenAi’s ChatGPT, one of the first to market is ‘Roam Around’. Roam Around claims to be the World’s first viral AI travel planner. It has obtained 4 million itineraries in the first month of operation and is constantly revolutionising the way people plan their trips. Simply enter any destination on Earth and Roam Around will generate a tailor-made itinerary within seconds. It also harnesses a feedback loop, where users can give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to what they have received.

Ursula Barzey, a digital marketing consultant and founder of Caribbean & Co. recently said; “after a period playing with the new products, at the moment they should be kept back firmly in their box”

She feels that, as much as we are gaining in speed of access to products and services in the travel sector, we are losing out on authenticity, in the origination of articles and facts i.e. how do we trace the audit trails back to who wrote that article in the New York Times or which company originated the product or service? Ursula Barzey found on quizzing Bard and ChatGPT, that the bot was likely to be embarrassed if it did not have the answer or the product at its disposal, and tended to supply an invalid answer, rather than not answer at all!

Ursula Barzey also said; “We are still very much in the infancy of using these applications, which are currently ‘pretty raw’ in what they can achieve. However, with time and further chatbot training, enriched by fresh data, the bots will become incredibly powerful and may be difficult to control.”

This is the reason, as previously mentioned that there has been a call from Joe Biden and from other channels to temporarily halt the progress of development until the essential guidelines, protocols and legislation can be put in place to support all users of AI.

There is also a feeling that many of the new companies engaging with AI are just looking for quick wins and seeing dollar signs, rather than planning for long term sustainability.

Another debate questions whether OpenAI software can continue to be free to developers?

The new AI world has already sparked many debates that will fuel conversations for many months to come.

All I would suggest is that people are mindful of how they engage with ChatGPT and Bard, - they present many opportunities and equally many disadvantages to the human race.

Over the next few blogs, I will examine what the advent of AI means to the travel industry, and take a closer look at some of the companies that are embracing and forming their companies based upon it.

Janet Butler - 9 June 2023


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