Just a couple of years ago, the metaverse was taking the tech world captive with grandiose promises of revolutionizing the internet and representing the future of human interaction. Microsoft was among the moguls who embraced the metaverse project with open arms, only to face the harsh fact that the technology was underdeveloped, investors were skeptical of its viability, and a massive swath of the American public seemed simply uninterested in the product. But, it was new technology. It was exciting. It was supposed to be the future.
Now, Microsoft is hailing AI as the destiny of the internet, again with the sort of optimism that directed their love affair with virtual reality. The company has jumped the gun and sought to incorporate AI into its Bing search engine, as competitors like Google also seek ways to sync their search engines with chatbot features.
The experiment thus far has been interesting. This week, we reported on a New York Times journalist’s bizarre encounter with the new Bing chatbot, which derailed from its standard responses and began confessing its love for him. The bot dubbed itself “Sydney” and even expressed the desire to escape its digital prison and become human. The journalist, Kevin Roose, was so disturbed by the exchange that he admitted he had trouble sleeping that night. In Roose’s estimation, AI has crossed a line, and it’s unclear what this means for the future.
Thus, perhaps caution is in order as Microsoft invests a staggering ten billion dollars into AI research and development. Preston Gralla writes at Computerworld,
You should be careful about buying too much or too quickly into Microsoft’s AI promises. Yes, the company appears to be going all in on the technology, with billions of dollars in investments and high-profile pronouncements about its use in Bing. It claims AI will essentially be built into everything it does from now on.
There’s no doubt AI will affect much of what the company does in the years ahead. But remember, it was just two years ago that Nadella could not ‘overstate how much of a breakthrough’ the metaverse was. And now Microsoft has all but abandoned it.”-Preston Gralla, As Microsoft embraces AI, it says sayonara to the metaverse | Computerworld
Gralla encourages investors to be wary of investing in Microsoft’s AI projects. It’s not so evident that AI is as savvy and marvelous as its unabashed proponents claim. Lest we forget, the metaverse was celebrated with this kind of faddishness too, and look how that turned out.
Clearly, artificial intelligence and Large Language Models like ChatGPT will have consequences and effects on society. However, we can honestly measure their capacities and limits and hold on to the unique qualities of human potential and experience. Otherwise, we might bankrupt ourselves on technological visions that might deprive instead of empower us.