Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been part of modern society for years. It can be found as virtual assistants in smartphones, recommendations on streaming platforms and social media accounts, and apps for navigating through the busy roads of cities.
It is also part of banking systems for detecting fraud, maintenance strategies in manufacturing plants, and data management systems for analysis and decision-making in companies.
However, such technologies are becoming more prevalent in our society in the past few months alone. We have seen the emergence of software applications more accessible to millions of people like ChatGPT and art and image generators.
Recently, GMA News unveiled two AI sportscasters for the opening of the new season of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. However, this drew overwhelmingly negative reactions, as it allegedly feels more like a gimmick to blend in with what is trending than revolutionizing Philippine broadcasting.
Criticisms also pointed to the loss of thousands of jobs and a grim look into the future of the broadcasting and entertainment industries; this has also been part of the concerns during the recent writers’ strike in the United States.
The goal of technology is to find practical solutions to technical problems, ultimately aimed at improving our quality of life. Yet there is no such thing as a perfect solution; there are always pros and cons to any intervention being proposed or implemented.
It should be highlighted that AI is not inherently evil. Like any other piece of technology, its forms like machine learning, deep learning, robotics, and natural language processing were built and designed to respond to challenges across various industries.
It is similar to how plastics were considered a revolutionary innovation during the mid-20th century, as it was viewed favorably for its low cost, versatility, and ease of manufacturing.
Coal was also a primary driver of the Industrial Revolution in European economies, which led to improvements in living standards and unprecedented economic growth that led to society as we know it today.
Yet coal and plastics are now at the center of two of the critical issues that form the ‘triple planetary crisis’ – climate change and pollution, with the third being biodiversity loss.
Many now view them in a negative light due to their contribution to the losses and damages experienced by communities and ecosystems for the past decades.
It is likely that AI is headed towards the same situation. On one hand, such technologies have led to benefits such as more accurate data processing, faster and more unbiased decision-making, performing repetitive tasks, and reducing risks that can harm humans.
In an ideal world, this would free up people to pursue more creative endeavors, improve work productivity, and enhance the quality of services provided to various groups worldwide.
Yet we do not live in an ideal world; these technologies come with several issues that should be examined more closely.
One example is the general lack of flexibility or capability for self-executing improvement with said technologies, as they are incapable of executing tasks beyond their programming.
The high costs for developing such software and hardware are also a concern, which explains why most of them are largely owned and produced by Big Tech companies.
Who is this for?
Yet the biggest issue involves the ethical and moral concerns on the growing use of AI. This has been seen in the criticisms on the use of AI sportscasters and concerns on copyrights pertaining to the artificial generation of art and images.
The increased, even excessive dependence on not just AI, but many forms of publicly-available technologies like social media are also resulting in growing concerns over the development of cognitive abilities and human intelligence of the next generations.
With the way it is being used these days, there is a legitimate concern that some of its proponents may be more intent on replacing humans for the sake of reducing costs and maximizing profits than what technology is supposed to do: assist us with our pursuit of development.
The allure of convenience, innovation, and marketing of the promise of a progressive future is overshadowing the unemployment, threats to data privacy and security, and others relevant to this context.
It is another example of the ‘technocratic paradigm’ that continues to envelop much of modern society, as referenced in the Laudato Si’.
It is the tendency to view our reality as a series of problems that can be addressed predominantly with scientific and technological prowess.
It also regards our environment not as having intrinsic value and dignity worthy of respect, but rather as raw materials or resources existing for human usage.
The term ‘environment’ does not just refer to biodiversity, ecosystems, land and water forms, the atmosphere, and natural resources; it also involves others, including human beings.
Through this lens, the danger of AI can be viewed as lying in disregarding peoples’ well-being in favor of the relentless pursuit of current notions of development, which have been proven to be unsustainable and unjust.
The reality of humankind developing the modalities that ultimately deprive us of our humanity, our own nature, can only end in tragedies and injustices suffered by those with the least contribution to them.
It has been seen with the climate and plastics crises, and the improper use of AI would result in the same consequences.
It is fair to question whether these technologies as currently deployed are really achieving what they are supposed to, aligned with the ultimate goal of improving our quality of life.
Before we get lost in the appeal of new technologies and the fast-paced lifestyle they bring, we must take at least a few moments to examine the role of emerging technologies in our lives.
Without the proper values and principles as guidance, what should be tools for our benefit would only become false solutions.
John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, and the Youth Advisory Group for Environmental and Climate Justice under the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific. He has been a climate and environment journalist since 2016.