Jaron Lanier is one of the foremost pioneers of VR technology — but he's also notorious for being one of Silicon Valley's harshest critics, in biting critiques that he characterizes as "dismal optimism."
Lately, he's turning his gaze on the tech industry's latest obsession: AI. In a spicy interview with The Guardian, Lanier made it clear that he thinks questions over whether AI will take over the world are "ridiculous." Lanier even rejects the term artificial intelligence, saying there's no real intelligence to be found.
"This idea of surpassing human ability is silly because it's made of human abilities," Lanier said.
"It's like saying a car can go faster than a human runner," he elaborated. "Of course it can, and yet we don't say that the car has become a better runner."
Does that reassure you, human? Well, good. But there's still plenty about AI we need to be vigilant about, according to Lanier.
Unlike how most tend to imagine an AI doomsday scenario as some vengeful, hyperintelligent bot unshackling itself from the manacles of its human masters, Lanier says the more likely way AI could irreparably damage the foundations of civilization will be a lot less genre sci-fi and more a gradual breakdown of communication and coherency.
"To me the danger is that we'll use our technology to become mutually unintelligible or to become insane if you like, in a way that we aren't acting with enough understanding and self-interest to survive, and we die through insanity, essentially," he told the newspaper, adding that we have a "responsibility to sanity."
But Lanier is actually a little optimistic — albeit cautiously — about chatbots like ChatGPT. He argues that until the recent rise of generative-AIs, AI's primary function was to make us lazy by curating all our content, like the algorithms that choose what you see your on YouTube home page or on your Twitter feed.
"We were directly connected to a choice base that was actually larger instead of being fed this thing through this funnel that somebody else controls." (This phenomena, he adds in a tangent, is what devolved once-distinct personalities like Elon Musk, Kanye West, and Donald Trump into being one and the same: attention-seeking "little [kids] in a schoolyard.")
But now, with an AI chatbot, prompting it with a question will yield different answers each time — both more random, and more human.
"It means there is a bit more choice and discernment and humanity back with the person who's interacting with the thing," Lanier told The Guardian.
Don't get too excited about shilling your favorite chatbot, though. Lanier thinks they could still end up being a civilization killer, too.
"You can use AI to make fake news faster, cheaper and on greater scales," he told The Guardian. "That combination is where we might see our extinction."
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