It is February 20, 1962, and American astronaut John Herschel Glenn is about to launch his “Friendship 7” space capsule from Cape Canaveral, Florida into orbit... but there is a problem.
The IBM computer’s calculations for his flight don’t match the previous day’s and without the correct figures, it’s not safe to take off.
He requests that Katherine Goble Johnson, a mathematical genius at NASA, calculate by hand because he trusts her brain more than the IBM machine.
This scene from the movie Hidden Figures (released in 2016) is based on a true story. Katherine,(Taraji P. Henson) was specifically tasked with calculating John’s (Glen Powell) launch into orbit and guaranteeing his safe return.
Her calculations by hand are the final determinant for the go/no go. She was a key member of a group of African-American female mathematicians or “human computers” if you may, that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in US history making him the first American to orbit the earth.
It is 2023, why is this relevant? Well, movies for me just seem to be an easy way to access complex ideas and innovations.
In the movie, there is a scene where John says, “It’s hard to trust something you can’t look in the eyes”. Enter ChatGPT(Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer), a chatbot launched last November.
It is a Natural Language Processing model (NLP) developed by Open AI, a San Francisco-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) research laboratory.
All this may sound too techie for an average person but the bottom line is that it allows users to talk to the AI about almost anything.
One of its main advantages is its ability to generate human-like responses to a wide range of inputs.
Since its launch, users have been sharing their experiences on social media on how it has helped them to write essays, fill out job applications and code.
The fact that in just five days, it registered more than a million users makes it kind of a big deal because comparatively, Meta (formerly Facebook) took 10 months and Netflix took three years to achieve the same number of users.
Despite the initial impressive reviews, the system has limitations. OpenAI has stated on its website that “ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers and it will sometimes respond to harmful instructions or exhibit biased behaviour.”
This is despite the bid to make the model refuse inappropriate requests. We are still a long way from the super AI or strong AI, which could be more intelligent than humans.
The gnawing question in the bigger conversation of AI is whether it is here to help us or replace us.
This is because every new development provokes in some way, a paranoia that is fuelled by fear and doubt as you begin to envisage all the apocalyptic outcomes — job losses as robots and algorithms take over and become smarter than humans, threats to national security, rogue creativity with heavily manipulated content that will misinform, misrepresent or even plagiarise then, there is the metaverse, which is a virtual world where billions of people live, work, shop, learn and interact with each other — all from the comfort of their seat in the physical world.
And it seems to be the end of the world as we know it!
With AI, we have at our disposal all the tools to create almost anything that the human mind can envisage, so its future still relies heavily on the integrity of the human actors.
Can this tech be trusted, or can the motives of the humans behind the tech be trusted? One of the misconceptions about AI is that it does not require humans.
But in reality, each AI-based system is dependent on humans and will remain so because it depends on human-gathered data to learn, analyse and create.
Just like John Glenn 60 years ago, in some cases, there still may be a preference for a human answer/effort over an electronic one.
For example, How confident would you be to board a pilotless passenger plane? I shudder that this reality is very close!
Since our existence is increasingly reliant on technology, it necessitates stronger data protection and cyber security measures that prevent breaches, address emerging digital threats, and improve compliance.
Recently, France’s data regulator fined Apple €8 million ($8.5 million) for breaching privacy laws on its App Store.
The bottom line is that we cannot hold back the tide of AI, there is simply no way around it.
The best we can do is learn all we can, stay curious, be agile and embrace it with the excitement and scepticism that it deserves.
On the bright side, it is not our replacement, it is our enhancer, think of it like having a personal productivity assistant. As AI eliminates many current jobs, it is also creating millions of new ones.
According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, AI is estimated to create an additional 13 trillion US dollars of value annually by the year 2030.
You may care less for this technology but my informed assumption is that if you own a smartphone and are dependent on it, you are already in too deep!
The writer is Senior Graphic Designer at Business Daily.