Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), if not appropriately monitored, could lead to potentially catastrophic changes in civilization and a swift escalation in online misinformation, cautioned a former Facebook engineer. Frances Haugen, a whistleblower who parted ways with Facebook in 2021 post-leaking manifold documents revealing deliberate dissemination of harmful content on the platform, alerts us to the impending “era of opacity.”
As AI unfolds on a grandeur scale, with economies leaning heavily on software pedaling data centers, a sense of obscurity may begin to permeate the globe. Without stringent regulation, Haugen fears that we may be on the verge of repeating the facebook debacle, this time on an escalated magnitude.
Haugen elucidates, when you reach the level of scalable systems operating on data centres, a minuscule proportion of the population holds disproportionately immense, civilization-impacting power. “At Facebook,” Haugen points out, “a very small group of people truly comprehends the workings of these algorithms, yet everyone’s news visibility is influenced by them. When we perceive the scale it can operate, the potential impacts could be grave.”
In today’s world, millions around the globe make use of AI programs on a daily basis. ChatGPT alone boasts more than 100 million users internationally and recorded 1.6 billion visits in June. Recent surveys imply that almost one-quarter of Australians employ AI programs at work, and almost 70 percent of children aged 14 to 17 have at least once used AI software.
However, Haugen– a heavyweight from Silicon Valley tech arena, proposed before the court that Facebook was endorsing hate speech and triggering the spread of content encouraging eating disorders among teens, particularly via its platform Instagram. She pointed out that the newer algorithms tend to give preference to the “most divisive, polarising content” to maximize profit.
She claimed that the measure for quality content seemed to have shifted from content that engrosses the readers to those that incite reactions such as reshares, likes, comments, etc. Unfortunately, the adverse influence is that the more divisive, polarising, and harmful content is getting the most circulation.
Urging for the establishment of legislative measures for more transparency and better protection for whistleblowers, Haugen warned that if left untackled, the loopholes will widen under the commercial motive bereft of a feedback cycle to rectify the lies.
In the face of a mounting call for stricter regulation of online hate speech and misinformation, and better protection for whistleblowers and the media, Australia is dreadfully falling behind, says a key advocate for free speech. Stalwart journalist Peter Greste suggests that Australia needs a mechanism considering the roles of journalists and whistleblowers. He prompted the government and the ADF to practice greater transparency, particularly when dealing with an escalating Middle East crisis.
Greste voiced at the National Press Club, “Currently, we, as a nation, and particularly our security and defense agencies, are overly obsessed with secrecy… This is causing tremendous issues for everyone.”