Expensive push to create human-like AI is wasted effort – Marin Independent Journal

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Scarlett Johansson's voice is unmistakable – a smoky alto with an undercurrent of steel. So, when OpenAI demonstrated its latest ChatGPT voice assistant, “Sky,” last week and it laughed, winked and sounded like Johansson, the actress understood.

He twice turned down OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's offer to voice the chatbot. Now, he finds himself staring into a mirror created by artificial intelligence.

These exciting simulations point to a growing obsession in the AI ​​world: recreating human-like interactions. Artificial companions are undoubtedly fascinating – the idea has captivated generations of science fiction fans – but is it the best use of technology with the potential to profoundly improve the human condition? Are we more focused on AI spectacle than substance?

AI tools are revolutionizing medicine, allowing algorithms to analyze medical images for earlier, more accurate diagnoses. In finance, AI assesses risk and optimizes investments at a speed that no human can match. In education, personalized learning platforms tailor lessons to the individual needs of students. These practical, almost invisible applications of AI that don't involve extraordinary human simulation are already improving people's lives, and their potential to help more people is vast.

Why the fixation on digital companions amid so many meaningful promises and opportunities? The answer is as old as the pyramid. Just as pharaohs poured untold resources into monuments that reflected their power and beliefs, some within Silicon Valley are pursuing life-like AI as a grand symbolic achievement.

Built into AI chatbots like Sky, there are echoes of the ancient quest to understand eternity, to communicate with eternity. The pyramids served as eternal vessels for the pharaoh's soul. What is life-like AI if not an attempt to capture and channel the essential nature of humans?

Achieving lifelike AI seems more extravagant than practical. As Princeton University professors Sayash Kapur and Arvind Narayanan recently noted, the AI ​​systems that most closely mimic human behavior are also the most expensive to develop. Yet, despite their hefty price tags, these systems often provide only incremental improvements over simpler, cheaper alternatives. These findings should make us pause and consider the practical utility of AI across the lifespan.

Some argue that apparently emotional AI can serve practical purposes. For example, perhaps an artificial human companion could provide much-needed social interaction for elderly or isolated people. However, such arguments miss an important point. The attributes that can make an AI human — the ability to relate, show empathy and gain trust — can also make it dangerous when misused. An AI that can expertly mimic human connection can deceive, manipulate and exploit. Additionally, relying on AI for such deeply human needs could erode our ability to connect.

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