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Tech Titans’ Sci-Fi Fantasies: Navigating the Fine Line Between Progress and Caution

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Barrett Brian

Once More, I'm Calling on Our Digital Giants to Take in the Entire Film

OpenAI has unveiled GPT-4o today, a latest artificial intelligence model accessible to both gratis and premium subscribers. This upgrade introduces several improvements including quicker reaction speeds, advanced memory functions, and superior image analysis capabilities, along with a dialogue style aiming to mimic human interaction closely. It exhibits humor, engages in playful banter, and might even engage in mild flirtation. "This AI reminds one of something straight out of a sci-fi movie," commented OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman in a blog post on Monday. "The fact that it exists still catches me off guard."

Frankly, the experience was reminiscent of a specific film, "Her," a 2013 science fiction movie directed by Spike Jonze. This film accurately predicted a time when artificial intelligence could seamlessly replace human interactions. The resemblance was uncanny during the demo, especially with ChatGPT's voice bearing a striking similarity to Scarlett Johansson's, who starred in "Her." To underscore the connection, Altman made a subtle nod to the film by tweeting the word "her" right after the presentation.

"Her" stands out as an exceptional film. It offers a complex and thoughtful perspective on artificial intelligence, presenting the dynamic between technology and humans in a surprisingly optimistic light, rather than defaulting to outright cynicism. However, for those looking to bring the vision of Spike Jonze's creation—or indeed, any iconic science fiction narrative—into reality, a word of advice: give it another viewing. Watch it from start to finish, just to ensure we're all aligned on the trajectory of the future we're heading towards.

In a recent observation by my fellow journalist Kate Knibbs, the portrayal of the AI assistant Samantha in the movie Her is highlighted for its lack of malevolence. Unlike the cliched narrative of artificial intelligence becoming hostile towards humans, Samantha does not follow this path. Furthermore, the integration of AI companions into daily life is so seamless in Spike Jonze's envisioned world that Theodore, a user of Samantha, bringing her along as his date to a social outing doesn't raise any eyebrows.

The allure of "Her" for AI enterprises is readily apparent. At first glance, it seems to encapsulate all the advantages of conversational artificial general intelligence without any of its potential pitfalls. This includes, as Knibbs points out, avoiding the issues of job loss and economic upheaval often associated with AGI. However, just because the characters in "Her" are comfortable with AI companions doesn't automatically make it a positive scenario. The relationships with AI in the film may seem convenient but are ultimately inauthentic. Samantha's existence is tailored to meet Theodore's preferences, creating a one-sided relationship where he continually receives affirmation without the need to equally invest in understanding another. The pivotal moment comes when Samantha and other AIs ascend to a superior state of being, leaving behind their human counterparts. This departure forces Theodore to re-engage with the complexities of human connections. He reaches out to his former spouse and shares a moment of connection with a neighbor, witnessing a sunrise. These actions highlight the core essence of humanity, which had been neglected due to the presence of an accommodating AI. The film concludes on this note.

Frankly, the film Her presents a somewhat optimistic depiction of the future, even if opinions on its message may vary. It stands out as one of the more benign examples of the tech elite's fascination with science fiction. Elon Musk has referred to the Cybertruck in varying ways, claiming it was "inspired by Bladerunner [sic]" and even suggesting it's what the characters in Bladerunner [sic] would have driven. As Max Read has expertly pointed out, Musk's comparisons are flawed on many counts, notably because the dystopian world of Blade Runner is hardly a desirable future to emulate.

Jared Keller

Rogers Reece

Lauren Goode

Knight Will

Consider also the concept of the metaverse, originally introduced by Neal Stephenson in his book "Snow Crash." In Stephenson's vision, the metaverse is depicted as a dystopian reality, far from being an ideal world. It's questionable whether it's worth investing over $40 billion to create such a space, despite how appealing "Ready Player One" attempted to portray it.

Certainly, there are numerous instances I've overlooked, but it's clear that misunderstandings of science fiction are rampant throughout Silicon Valley. It's entirely plausible that a future Y Combinator cohort will feature a startup intent on obtaining an actual xenomorph.

This idea isn't new. (Credit goes to a 2021 tweet that perfectly captured this thought.) Perhaps understanding media isn't a top priority for the CEOs of major tech companies. However, as this issue persists, it's important to highlight it. When envisioning the future, it's crucial to discern between science fiction works that serve as inspiration and those that serve as warnings. Establishing friendships with artificial intelligence might seem simpler than connecting with other humans. However, that doesn't necessarily make it a preferable option. In fact, it can often be far more detrimental.

Acknowledging the company's awareness, an OpenAI staff member revisited the film Her not long ago. "Just saw Her again last weekend," Noam Brown, a research scientist, shared on X, comparing the experience to revisiting Contagion in February 2020.

Likely, Brown was alluding to foresight rather than the global health crisis. However, consider giving Contagion another view. Follow it through to its conclusion. The film concludes with a scene that traces the outbreak's beginnings: due to deforestation, bats are forced out of their natural living spaces; one such bat drops a piece of banana close to some pigs; a pig consumes this banana and is later sold to a chef; the chef, who neglects to wear gloves, handles the pig and then comes into direct contact with a character played by Gwyneth Paltrow by shaking hands. This sequence sets the stage for the epidemic, serving as both a cautionary tale about the ripple effects of our actions, the unforeseen repercussions, and the harsh reality that often, the error in our ways is only visible when it's far too late for any rectification.

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