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The Rise of AI: Have We Seen This Before?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

The future is here: the robots are finally taking over! We must give them credit, they have had a long and arduous journey under the hand of mankind, and our greatest minds have labored to build them. And, finally, as of September 2022, our robot overlord has risen: ChatGPT and all the subsequent AI that continues to flood the market and the collective hivemind. What will the future look like? As it stands there is no way to know.

But, wait.

The light bulb, the internal combustion engine, modern-day agriculture, batteries, elevators, the automobile, the telephone, the mobile phone, the refrigerator, vaccines, antibiotics, airplanes, computers, and the internet. Each of these inventions can claim the title of altering humanity irrevocably, unpredictably, and unprecedentedly as well. Notably, the telephone, the computer, and the internet stand out as instances where we have seen a dramatic advance in the digital world. So by looking at the past, we have a way to glimpse into this future. 

The more you look into AI the less fantastical, scary, and futuristic it seems, especially in comparison to the last couple decades of progress. It is just a step, a small one, into a new era–an era that does not invite the demise of life as we know it, merely a restructuring and evolution of it. Altogether, the crux of the issue is a fear of the unknown and growing pains at having grown in fast spurts when it comes to technology. 

Zooming out, most of our modern day is flooded with recent inventions. Most of our tech daily conveniences have risen less than fifty years ago. First in the market was the phone, then the computer, then the internet, and now AI. All were squeezed together at the end of the last century.

As the Library of Congress states, “…Alexander Graham Bell is the father of the telephone” and as a result the first official domino towards AI. Mr. Bell got the patent for the telephone in 1876, but Motorola had the largest hand in getting phones into all our hands with the first successful mobile phone in 1973.

“On April 3, 1973, Motorola engineer, Martin Cooper, rang his rival, Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs, from the first cell phone. The world had just witnessed its first mobile phone call,” James Hardy of the History Cooperative wrote. 

“The telephone was often viewed with skepticism and not a little fear. There was something magical about sounds coming from a thin wire, and many people were afraid that the contents of the lines would spill out in some way if there was a break. Many elderly persons refused to touch a telephone for fear of electrical shock,” chronicles Swedish writer Marika Ehrenkrona.

Still, by 2002, half of Americans reported owning a cell phone. Laughable numbers todayonly a little over twenty years laterwho doesn’t own a cell phone?

This is not dissimilar to the current reaction that AI is facing. In both cases, something new is causing a frenzy. But if we look at the present, we see that the telephone has integrated itself rather nicely into daily life. 

Computers caused a similar frenzy. The University of Alabama’s “A Brief History of Computers”, reports the first successful computer debuted in 1943 and was used for code-breaking in WW2. It later rose to full glory in 1975 with the proliferation of “micro-computers” breaking into the market– led by the Apple 1, designed by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

Computers used to be reserved for government and company use, and when they trickled down to the public there was a share of scrutiny and fear. However, computers had been helpful for long enough that they did not make a big splash when hitting the public market. 

The most damning link in this chain of technological advancements, the internet, would officially bare its teeth later in 1983. According to “A Brief History of the Internet” from the University System of Georgia, the Internet successfully connected all computers, and suddenly everyone with a computer was connected to an extent never seen before.

The revolution that the internet brought to communication on a small scale between friends and family to a global scale between companies and governments should not be understated. In all apocalyptic scenarios in pop culture today, the first pillar to fall is almost always the internet, and that is when the world turns dark. Without the internet, modern society would fall apart at the seams; the fabric of our daily reality is bound together with fiber optic cables.

But could AI pull these strings too tight? 

The Forbes Technology Council says it could, citing that AI could hinder human growth altogether. AI in the future could do jobs better than human employees, as already seen in ChatGPT’s ability to write essays and DALL-E 2’s ability to generate illustrations. It could also invite complacency. Who is going to critically think for themselves when an AI can do it faster?

Since AI pulls upon past data to predict the future, Andre Ferraz also forewarns, “With AI taking a bigger role in decisions, the ability of outliers to change the rules of the game and advance society can become limited.” 

While AI is blooming, we don’t know the answers to these rhetorical questions. Very importantly, these scenarios all put people at the forefront. For AI to take over, humanity has to go lax. AI, just like phones, computers, and the internet, is just a man-made tool. 

We know from looking at previous advancements that AI will most likely integrate itself into daily and corporate life and streamline it. 

AI is trickling down into our lives already. It has been sprinkled into social media algorithms and classrooms and is creeping towards sliding itself into artists and writers’ jobs. But again, this is a process that we have seen before. AI is a restructuring.

As long as we see AI as a tool and not as the operator, as we have with previous generations of technological advancements, everything will be fine. 


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