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Friday February 17, 2023 8:13 pm

Bing’s New Chatbot Isn’t Conscious, Despite What You May Have Heard

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Features, Internet, Microsoft

We're living in a time where AI anxiety is at an all-time high. Predictions about the AI singularity are being thrown around like confetti, and recent reports about Microsoft's new Bing search AI have some folks convinced that we're already living in a world of self-aware machines.

Now, don't get me wrong, I can see why people might think this. When most people hear the term "AI," they imagine Skynet or HAL 9000 – machines with human-like self-awareness, powered by complex processors that rival the human brain.

But the reality of AI is far different from the Hollywood versions we see on the big screen. AI tools like Midjourney, ChatGPT, and Google and Microsoft's search assistants are a far cry from the sentient machines we imagine. In fact, calling chatbots, art generators, or automated programming tools "AI" might be a misnomer – or more likely, a simple marketing tactic.

So, how do these "AI" tools actually work?

At their core, these tools are just programs that output results based on user inputs. They require fine-tuning from engineers and users to perform at their best. Essentially, the software searches its databases for information that matches the user's prompt, puts it together, modifies it as necessary, and spits it back out. As Ted Chiang wrote in the New Yorker, it's more like making blurry Xerox copies of existing work, rather than creating new work from scratch.

And that's why AI-generated content often seems so human-like. It's all based on existing materials created by humans. Midjourney images are so evocative because they copy from paintings, illustrations, and photographs made by real people who understand composition and color theory. Bing's answers seem eerily human because they're repeating human-written text.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is impressive technology. Building and tuning these tools for reliable results is no small feat. But no matter what anyone tells you, there's no "ghost" inside these machines learning how to write, draw, or deliver talk therapy. They're not conscious, they're not self-aware, they're just programs.

And the people behind these tools know this. They're happy to let people believe that their software is conscious and alive, because it makes people more likely to try their products. The more impressive and "life-like" the results, the more likely people are to use them – and to pay for them. It's why ChatGPT is referred to as an AI, rather than a "predictive text generator." It's just marketing.

AI Isn't Alive, But It's Still a Problem

But what about the future? Isn't it possible that computers could become conscious, self-aware beings capable of self-directed learning and artistic output just like humans?

Sure, it's possible. But scientists and philosophers are still debating what consciousness even is, let alone how it arises in biological life. We need to answer those questions before we can even think about artificial consciousness in machines.

And even if artificial consciousness is achievable, it's not happening anytime soon. It's not going to spontaneously appear in Midjourney or ChatGPT.

But whether or not robots will eventually overthrow us is a secondary concern compared to the real issues posed by AI automation – labor, privacy, and data freedom. Companies are laying off writers and media professionals and replacing them with AI content generation. AI art tools routinely use copyrighted materials to generate images, and deep fake pornography is a growing issue. Tech firms are shifting towards machine-generated code that is often less secure than human-written code – not because it's better, but because it's cheaper.

These are the real threats posed by AI, not whether or not Bing has feelings. It's crucial that we recognize how many of the purveyors of AI tech are using our anxieties to market their products. Don't be fooled by the AI hype machine – these tools may be impressive, but they're not sentient. Yet.

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