AI hype: a solution to a non-existent problem

Merely mentioning artificial intelligence could mean troves of investors at your door. Soon, that might not be enough – the hype must live up to reality. If it doesn’t, the bubble will burst.

“It’s a system that is sometimes right, sometimes creative, often totally wrong. You actually don't want it to drive your car, but you're happy for it to, you know, help you brainstorm what to write about, or help you with code that you get to check.”

This is OpenAI’s chief executive Sam Altman, the AI industry’s Oppenheimer-in-chief, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. Altman was explaining what AI is to Fareed Zakaria, a curious host.

Talk is cheap

It’s just gibberish. Go ahead, have a watch (or a listen), and decide for yourselves – Altman’s answers are simply incomprehensible to a regular person.

Sometimes creative and right but often totally wrong – what is this? As for brainstorming, what could help is a rested mind – or a get-together with your friends or colleagues to work something out.

In Davos, Altman also repeated his mantra that OpenAI was allegedly trying to create safe technology. Really?

A bit rich coming from a guy who reportedly pushed the firm towards trying to make more easy money off the ChatGPT boom and, after an unsuccessful coup late last year, now finds no place at the company for Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist.

You know, the one employee who has actually been expressing worry over rogue superintelligence? The one who felt he had the right to tell Altman he was fired?

Altman knows, though – talk is cheap. Mostly. Yes, Microsoft has poured billions into OpenAI already, and everyone is purring about AI everywhere – well, except the few who beg us to just curb our enthusiasm for now, as there’s really not much to be ecstatic about.

Sam Altman.

I think a break is a good idea since the AI hype bubble might be just another crypto hype bubble. To me, AI looks like a solution to a problem that’s not a problem – or, actually, a non-solution to the very real problems that are not going away.

The sunset of cryptomania

Remember crypto? Thought so. That’s mostly because the best measurement of whether a product or a service was actually useful and simply real is the aftermath when a big crisis is supposedly sure to shake the world.

Guess what happened in 2022 and 2023 when trillions of dollars’ worth of crypto was supposedly wiped out? Exactly – not much. These losses are nowhere to be seen in the real economy because the alleged wealth that crashed when the bubble burst never existed in the first place.

These billions of shitcoins were and remain illusory. Thousands of people who had been convinced by these peddlers to swap their hard-earned savings for worthless cryptocurrency are very real, on the other hand.

Now, yes – not all crypto is bad, it’s not actually all fraud, and Bitcoin’s early adopters were probably sincerely trying out its potential to wrestle power away from the big banks, other financial institutions, and, of course, the US dollar. It was a sincere, if unhinged, political project.

And maybe it’s not even so bad – maybe this is just another crypto winter, and investors are only pulling back temporarily, at least until inflation and recession fears subside.

But the meltdown of the world’s second-largest crypto exchange, FTX, the crash of Luna and its sister algorithmic stablecoin TerraUSD, and the collapse of crypto lenders like Celsius and BlockFi don’t really look like mere bumps in the road.

In short – and in the words of William Quinn, a lecturer at Queens’ University Belfast – the cryptocurrency fervor of the past decade is either a “stupider bubble than any previous bubble” in financial history, or “a smarter Ponzi than any previous Ponzi.”

Far from a miracle

So we might be over scammy crypto, finally – the healthy players are now friends with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and it’s good for everyone.

Worry not because we’re not short of bubbles. Serious players with fat wallets will always look and find new avenues of hyping something else, won’t they?

Let’s not forget how Morgan Stanley was touting crypto as a massive growth opportunity and, in 2021, became the first bank to allow investments in crypto for their high-net-worth clients.

Today, the bank has moved on and wants us to know that AI is a $6 trillion opportunity. All the catchy phrases are hiding in the press release: “game-changing innovations,” “breakthrough moment,” and “tech diffusion.”

Morgan Stanley is, of course, not alone in this. It’d be quite difficult to remember which company hasn’t mentioned AI or, more specifically, generative AI, in their press releases or earnings calls.

When OpenAI’s ChatGPT was released to the masses in late 2022, the tech world went into overdrive. Everyone wanted to utter the magic word combo, and soon, Meta, Google, Apple, Spotify, Microsoft, Amazon, and thousands of others were declaring that the future is AI.

OpenAI's ChatGPT.

I couldn’t possibly tell you how many supposedly brand-new AI-powered apps and products we here at Cybernews have been pitched by overly energetic PR people over the past year or so.

A few of them we truly were curious to try – as a game – but the rest? Simply mentioning AI next to the other part of the name of your app will not turn your little business idea into a next-gen miracle, will it?

Dare I say, the one and only ChatGPT is nothing too special. Last year, the creators of Trashfuture, a hilarious podcast about how to “make yourself smarter with the continued psychic trauma of capitalism,” called the chatbot, trained, most probably illegally, on a huge chunk of online data, “a sophisticated form of autocomplete.”

Of course, it’s a modern type of autocomplete as it can produce long passages of text in response to prompts. But is it reliable? ChatGPT could, for instance, inform you that you’ve died. With a link.

Fantasy and reality

Sure, this might just be the beginning of something big. Sure, progress is inevitably slow. But the whole phenomenon doesn’t look like a “defining moment – like the internet in the 90s,” as Bank of America puts it.

For one, the internet of the 90s had low barriers to entry and was definitely not dominated by large companies that are all super-hungry for your data – we don’t really own our online selves anymore.

The AI industry is already dominated by Big Tech. OpenAI is basically dependent on Microsoft’s money, and Google is pushing its Bard chatbot as well – although maybe it’s just me but I use Google to find information on reliable websites rather than read a paragraph compiled by a machine.

So when Altman is again and again saying that AI technology should be put in the hands of the people, he’s not telling the truth – just like ChatGPT, he’s a bullshit generator.

Apple is the one tech giant more or less resisting the newest craze. Maybe there’s a reason for that: already in late 2024, corporate-transcript mentions of AI topics have been slipping back.

According to Deutsche Bank analysts, this could mean the “froth is beginning to dissipate” as companies realize it’s time to move from fantasy to real-world uses of the technology. So far, only Microsoft has offered AI assistance for widely-used Office 365 documents.

When Sam Altman is again and again saying that AI technology should be put in the hands of the people, he’s not telling the truth – just like ChatGPT, he’s a bullshit generator.

Besides, new data recently showed that few American businesses are putting generative AI technology to actual use, even if they like to talk about it in order to woo investors and take their cash.

Only 3.8% of businesses reported using AI to produce goods and services, according to November’s Business Trends and Outlook Survey. It’s safe to say we’re very, very far away from mass adoption and use of AI.

Are we giving up on people?

Finally, I’ve got a nagging feeling that this constant talk of how AI is going to revolutionize everything sounds simply like giving up on people. If there is a revolution, it will be a revolution of the few, not the many, I fear.

Let’s not kid ourselves – if AI implementation en masse is successful, it looks like the very few large companies might use AI to get even larger and finally tell the rest of us to go drown in our misery.

It’s truly hard for me to believe that AI will actually create more jobs for humans, in part because tech layoffs are not stopping.

One of the iron rules of the modern markets is this: they value automation because automation allows the bosses to pay workers less. That’s just history.

The textile factory owners who purchased automatic looms were definitely not interested in giving their workers raises or shorter working hours. Yes, you could learn a new job, of course – but if you dedicated years of your life to perfecting your skills and they’re suddenly no longer needed, how can you simply deal with it and adapt? It’s a shock.

And if these fears turn out to be overblown, my mind keeps coming back to the very real possibility of wealth inequality expanding even more. Yes, AI might fire up productivity, but would these gains trickle down to workers, especially in countries like the United States where their say is, sadly, minuscule?

In his 2022 book “Resisting AI,” Dr. Dan McQuillan, a lecturer in creative and social computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, advocates “an antifascist approach to AI” and says that “instead of helping to address our current crises, AI causes divisions that limit people’s life chances, and even suggests fascistic solutions to social problems.”

At times, it really feels like Big Tech is vigorously attempting to impose the so-called knowledge regime on humanity.

It’s not too late for a counter-culture – or merely a drop of skepticism about the technology and its fantastical promises. Maybe, just maybe, let’s try training people – not AI models.

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