Mar 25 • 29M

Theory of Change #065: Jeff Schatten and Gary N. Smith on AI and its implications

An introduction to artificial intelligence and how it’s changing the world


Appears in this episode

Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? History is filled with stories of people and institutions that spent big and devoted many resources to effect change but have little to show for it. By contrast, many societal developments have happened without forethought from anyone. And of course, change can be negative as well as positive. In each episode of this weekly program, Theory of Change host Matthew Sheffield delves deep with guests to discuss larger trends in politics, religion, media, and technology.
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The logo for ChatGPT. Image: OpenAI

Up until very recently, most of the software and services using artificial intelligence haven't gotten much public attention, and that's because the primary users of AI historically have been governments, militaries, and giant corporations, all of which have one thing in common— huge amounts of data and huge responsibilities. In November of last year, however, the AI industry leaped into the media spotlight with a launch of ChatGPT, a text-based large language model program that can rapidly generate massive quantities of text in the form of articles, stories, programming code, and even poetry in response to typed human input.

The attention has been nothing less than massive. The website for ChatGPT received 1.1 billion visits in January, according to web statistics firm Similarweb. The technology industry is now in an AI arms race as Google, Amazon, and others have raced to get into the gold rush that Microsoft and its partners at OpenAI created with the launch of ChatGPT.

Artificial intelligence, or at least what we're calling it, is everywhere now. But what does AI even mean and how does it work? It's an uncharted territory and it seems that the technologies are racing ahead a manner that is unplanned and certainly unregulated.

We don't know what the future will hold for these "large language model" (LLM) systems but do we even understand how they're impacting things in the present? How much does it matter that programs like ChatGPT don't understand the words they generate?

There's a lot to talk about here, and we're going to be discussing with two panelists in this episode. Gary N. Smith is a professor of economics at Pomona College and the author of the new book, Distrust: Big Data, Data-Torturing, and the Assault on Science. Jeff Schatten is an associate professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

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