Artificial Intelligence and the Helplessness of the Humankind

Known Facts

The concept of knowledge being synonymous with power is widely acknowledged. The potency of knowledge lies in its ability to empower individuals to exert influence over both human beings and other living creatures. Consequently, humans are widely regarded as the most intellectually advanced creatures on the planet. Scientific research indicates that dolphins rank second only to humans in terms of intelligence. While the attribution of labels such as ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’ are constructs of human society, it appears that this hierarchy holds true given the dominance of mankind over the natural world. However, a disconcerting development has emerged whereby not only living entities but ‘inerts’ have entered the realm of intelligence through the utilisation of information and technology. Moreover, these collectives possess the capacity to autonomously accumulate information, thereby perpetually augmenting their intellectual capabilities. Consequently, despite the continued control exerted by their developers (a select few individuals), a crisis has arisen for humanity. This predicament arises from the fact that those in control employ these collectives against us for commercial purposes. This disquieting amalgamation is commonly referred to as artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as reasoning, problem-solving, understanding human language, perception, learning, planning, recognising individuals by sight or voice, making expert decisions, and manipulating objects. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ was first coined by John McCarthy in 1955, who is widely regarded as one of the fathers of AI, along with Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, and Herbert A. Simon. Since its inception, AI has undergone significant evolution, and its applications have expanded to a myriad of domains.

Intelligence agencies of different countries have been among the earliest adopters of AI. During the Cold War, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) initiated the use of AI to transcribe and translate large volumes of intercepted Soviet phone calls. At that time, the technology was still in its nascent stages, but in recent years, AI has undergone significant improvements, owing to the availability of more data, improved algorithms, and increased processing power. Consequently, the use of AI in business has become increasingly effective, and intelligence agencies have ambitious plans for its deployment. In many countries, the export of AI-based technology and services has emerged as a significant source of income.

AI not only has the potential to influence individuals with less technical knowledge, but also those who possess a deep understanding of technology in the developed world. The more individuals are exposed to technology, the more susceptible they become to its power.

In addition to intelligence agencies, prominent technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are also engaging in surveillance practices through the use of AI. This is driven by competition among these entities to invest more heavily in AI development in order to outperform their rivals and achieve greater success. As it stands, much of the developed world is actively pursuing success in a wide range of human and non-human activities, including integrating AI technology into warfare, conducting surveillance across various domains, engaging in creative endeavours such as writing and music, operating vehicles, addressing climate change, and more. Interestingly, AI not only has the potential to influence individuals with less technical knowledge, but also those who possess a deep understanding of technology in the developed world. The more individuals are exposed to technology, the more susceptible they become to its power.

When individuals use smartphones, televisions, or any internet-connected devices, their personal information, such as their browsing preferences, whereabouts, social connections, and activities can be monitored. Most applications, including social media platforms, accessed through these devices, track, collect, store, and analyse user data, often selling it to third parties —primarily businesses. Even when a device is turned off, user information can still be accessed as necessary. Consequently, this creates a sense of insecurity among individuals. However, it is important to note that AI is not solely employed for surveillance purposes; it is also utilised in various ways to enhance and improve people’s daily lives.

AI: a blessing or a curse?

Scientists have made predictions regarding the future capabilities of AI-enabled robots, suggesting that by 2049 these robots will possess the ability to produce best-selling literature. However, it is worth noting that a novel authored by an AI-powered robot in Japan has already been considered for a prestigious literary prize within the country. Conversely, a group of researchers from Oxford University have expressed their belief that within the next 120 years, intelligent machines will be capable of performing all tasks currently undertaken by humans. Furthermore, scientists at Stamford University have claimed to have developed an artificial intelligence system capable of accurately predicting an individual’s lifespan through various bodily examinations. This technology has been applied to a range of societal advancements, including enhanced care for the elderly and advancements in pharmaceutical research. In contrast, over 50 nations are actively engaged in the development of battlefield robots designed to autonomously identify and eliminate enemy targets.

Notably, recent events have seen Iran accuse Israel of employing an AI-controlled satellite weapon to assassinate their top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iranian officials from the Revolutionary Guard have asserted that no human operatives were present during the attack, with an AI-controlled machine gun mounted on a pickup truck being utilised instead. The machine gun was operated through an intelligent satellite system, which precisely targeted Fakhrizadeh’s face, allowing his wife, who was in close proximity, to remain unharmed. It is alleged that Israeli agents transported the machine gun to Iran from Israel through a series of covert operations. Moreover, in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan employed AI-driven weaponry to inflict significant damage upon Armenia.

The question then is whether artificial intelligence is a boon or a bane. There exists divergent viewpoints on this matter. Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, supports AI while simultaneously perceiving it as a threat to global liberation. He posits that AI and robots will displace numerous jobs, as machines will increasingly assume various tasks in the future. Nonetheless, humans will always retain the role of controllers of AI. Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, warns that if the unbridled growth of AI is not curtailed promptly, it will metamorphose into an ‘immortal dictator’ from which humanity will be unable to extricate itself. In a documentary on AI, Musk asserts, ‘If a malevolent dictator emerges, that individual will eventually perish. However, AI is impervious to death. It will endure indefinitely, thereby establishing an immortal dictatorship. Escape from its clutches will be an impossibility.’ Musk further characterises the development of AI as summoning a monstrous entity and deems it the most formidable threat to mankind.

Juval Noah Harari, who is a leader in AI technology in the world, thinks that the danger in AI is not necessarily an obvious threat like an atomic bomb, but lies in its convenience.

Similarly, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, a company at the forefront of AI research, recently expounded upon the perils of AI misuse. In an interview, he contends that IT organisations should adhere to specific policies to prevent the abuse of AI and should proactively contemplate the potential misuse of technology. Pichai emphasises that it is imperative not only to invent and advance new technology, but also to exercise caution to ensure that its utilisation does not contravene human civilization. However, Google has been accused of not following ethics in this regard. The company is said to use AI to provide security information to US security forces. In this regard, the employees of the company have also expressed concern in a letter. On the other hand, Israeli historian Juval Noah Harari, who is a leader in AI technology in the world, thinks that the danger in AI is not necessarily an obvious threat like an atomic bomb, but lies in its convenience. It is possible to envision a scenario where AI hacks the body, the brain, and life. It will hold more information with third parties than with the individual themself.

Many countries have also announced that they are working on harnessing AI for climate change. But there are also many risks with that, says University of California Professor Stuart Russell, an expert on modern machine capability technology. He gave a fictional example of the threat of AI in this regard:

Imagine that we have a powerful artificial intelligence system that can control the world’s climate and use it to return the climate to pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels. It was then decided that the easiest way to do this was to remove all humans from the Earth, since humans are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide on Earth. You may want to say that you can do whatever you want, just not harm people. What will the system do? This will then influence us to have fewer children, until the earth is humanless.

Many may wonder how a robot can work by itself beyond human command. But it is made possible because powerful artificial intelligence constantly enriches itself with information through the internet. At the same time, it can decide on many issues itself, having been given that power. Therefore, it will not be surprising if that decision is used in any negative case. But of course, there will always be a need for some subtle skills that only humans possess. These skills include intelligence and the ability to create and manage technology. But since AI is still an emerging industry, it is important to have specific policies!

Do you control or are you being controlled?

You’re at the reading table, the chat room, or the workplace. You’re holding your smartphone. You begin scrolling through Facebook. A video begins to play. As soon as one finishes, another starts. Your eyes were drawn to it. An amusing occurrence in Uganda, a local dish in Vietnam, or a new documentary of the country’s ‘BD Village Around’ are all unveiled—one after another. You’ll forget whether you’re conversing or at an office meeting. When you finally put down your phone, many critical moments of your life have already been lost. But have you ever noticed that after a few hours, you can’t recall how many films you’ve watched? The issue is, why do you continue to watch? According to research, social media platforms like Facebook are increasingly adding AI-enhanced features to their apps and pages in an effort to compel you to use them. Many people’s video addiction has reached its peak even while they are at home because of the global COVID pandemic.

Behind every phone screen is the contribution of thousands of engineers. They are only working on how to increase your attention to the screen. — AZA RASKIN

Psychiatrists find that you’ve mastered the art of subtly sneaking glances at the screen before anyone notices that you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed for the tenth time in an hour. And it is possible that this is an addiction. According to the information given by a few websites, ‘Now, on average, four hundred million video views (the same video as multiple views) are happening on Facebook every day.’ 50 million users spend a hundred million hours a day on the social media site! 85% of them are watching videos without audio. That is, they are not getting any special information, they are just watching the video. Internet browser Mozilla Firefox’s former official, Aza Raskin, said, ‘It is like a usual drug, and it is being spread throughout the interface. […] Behind every phone screen is the contribution of thousands of engineers. They are only working on how to increase your attention to the screen.’

Now the question is: does Facebook or YouTube show you these videos or do you choose to watch them? If you have watched them of your own accord, then why do these videos come one after the other according to your choice? Does it mean they sense your likes and dislikes? Actually, their algorithm is designed just so. Video uploaders are also advised to use certain keywords. AI will do the rest. Many may ask, what is so much talk about watching a little video? In fact, by watching these videos, we become consumers of various multinational organisations. In 2017, young filmmaker Abhirup Ghosh gave a similar message in his film K: Secret Eye:

People have no opinion, no choice! All is marketing. Individuals do not matter. Everything was told; memorised knowledge. Marketing companies and the media force the logic of who you vote for, [why you don’t go to the polls,] into the minds of the public. Which product should you buy, and why should you buy it? Because they don’t sell ordinary goods. The extent of their influence may have been such that they told everyone to vote on the rose mark, but there was no rose mark at the polling booth. As a result, people will draw a rose with a pen and vote there! Through advertisement, news, and social media, these institutions will push their instructions into people’s subconscious minds in such a way that people will follow them without hesitation.

Although the situation may seem imaginary to many people, considering the reality, that day may not be far away. Those who boost their posts on Facebook can easily guess this. Facebook is helping to increase business by providing various information about which age group of people are viewing their posts and which posts are being viewed more. At the same time, they store all personal information. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft directly support the contracting countries with information about any negative activity on their networks. As a result, for whom any information is negative or positive or who will make this negative-positive selection is absolutely secondary to the user.

Many people may think that you don’t use anything related to AI in technology. So, they don’t bother to know so much about AI. But experts proved that even then, you are not completely safe! By using the media, such as new media or the internet, you can easily understand that the streets of these two cities, Shanghai and Shenzhen in China, are magnificent. What a brilliant sparkle! Every vehicle is lane-compliant. No one is honking anywhere. There is no one on the road, but the car has stopped because the green light is not on. Pedestrians are also walking on the sidewalk according to the rules. If you want to cross the road, you must follow the specific zebra crossing. Waiting for the green light to turn on. The question may arise: what is the secret of their adherence to such rules? This is because security cameras are installed at certain distances on the road. This camera network is connected to a central system. This security camera will catch whoever breaks the rules. Quick action can be taken against them. Thinking about how people are identified in such a crowd? For this, a special method of facial recognition using AI technology is being used. As a result, any person moving on the road can be easily taken out! As a result, this technology can come to your country at any time to endure the tide of technology. So, you may need to rethink who bridles you in this age of technology.

Artificial intelligence in movies

Television was once called a ‘fool’s box’. It’s not capable of any creative work except for smooth broadcasting on the screen. But online content can also be viewed effortlessly through streaming with the help of an internet connection on today’s television sets. But the fear is that smart TVs use automatic content recognition (ACR) through AI, regardless of the content you enjoy on television, to understand the character of these contents and spread information about the customer’s likes and dislikes through the internet to third-party ad agencies. The situation is like this; there is no avoiding it even by changing the various settings of the television. There have been lawsuits in many countries in this regard. According to a 2014 document leaked by WikiLeaks, Samsung’s smart TVs were fitted with spyware that would not switch off even if the user has turned the TV off. Even if the screen goes dark, it is actually controlled by the CIA. These TVs would record the surrounding sounds, and then when the TVs were turned on again, they would send those sounds to CIA’s servers via WiFi. The CIA’s ‘Future Section’ later arranged to take ‘snapshots’ with those TVs without the user’s knowledge, according to WikiLeaks.

Though intelligence agencies or marketing agencies use AI for their own interests; many may ask, what is the use of knowing this information as a movie-lover? Those who regularly keep track of technology may have already figured this out. Recently, the American movie production company Warner Brothers has made a deal with a startup company named Cinelytic. Based in Los Angeles, USA, this company works with artificial intelligence. Now the question is, what is the relationship between film and the technology company working on artificial intelligence? Certainly, there’s a relationship since the company uses AI to predict whether a film will be commercially successful or not! Cinelytic’s algorithm will help Warner Bros. decide whether or not to take on a film at the signing stage.

Not only that, script writing for the film, post-production work, location of the film, costumes, and which actors will make the film successful, i.e., selection of actors, people from which area will watch it more, and not only ideas about where to do business abroad but also explanations—AI will provide all the information. At the same time, it will also help in composing and editing the background music of the film. Its work is not over when the film is produced; AI will also work on the promotion of the film after the production. As a result, artificial intelligence is indicating major changes in the global film industry in the near future. However, artificial intelligence is usually based on existing data. Therefore, the developers analysed and information used in previous films as well as the audiences’ likes and dislikes of various media to develop the system. At the same time, AI will be ahead by enriching itself with the current news and information of any country. Warner Bros. Senior Vice President Tony Keys said, ‘Every day we make tough decisions about how to make movies and deliver them to audiences. The more accurate our information, the more visitors we can attract.’

Demons lurking in the entertainment industry

We usually use social media like Facebook, YouTube, and other technology-based apps for entertainment. These types of apps are already creating controversy through AI technology. Recently, Belgian visual effects expert Chris Umé developed software which can produce AI-generated visual and audio content, widely known as ‘deepfake’. That is, software that can create a made-up photo or video, which looks almost authentic, developed by artificial intelligence. These are fake videos but appear real. This technology is often used to create fake pornographic video clips featuring celebrities. It is basically used to replace a person in a picture or video with someone having similar physique, where the concerned person is seen to be speaking, moving his face, or doing something else. The worst thing is that it is possible to make a deceased person appear virtually with this technology. In these videos created by artificial intelligence programs, a person can be heard saying things that they did not actually say. They can be seen doing things they didn’t do.

Consider Leonardo da Vinci’s most well-known painting, ‘Mona Lisa’. There is still a great deal of interest in the work of art painted hundreds of years ago. Whether she is laughing or upset is often debated. But a painting can be brought to life in a deepfake video. Giving her a voice, she could say, ‘I am not laughing, nor am I upset. I am looking at the artist with disgust! And listen, my picture was not painted by Vinci. It was painted by Picasso!’ And the image will look so alive that it will be hard for ordinary people not to believe what appears to be Mona Lisa’s own words. Many may forget that there was no digital colour photography at that time!

You can create something similar with a picture or video of someone you know. With a few seconds of recorded audio from anyone, you can make them say whatever you want in the video, done perfectly through AI technology. As a result, these digitally distorted video contents are becoming more dangerous than conventional text and distorted images. Because deepfake content can cause serious danger in multi-ethnic countries, including Bangladesh and India, perpetrators can use malicious content to create conflict between different communities. Alleged incitement and allegations of various insults can lead to dire situations. In the meantime, technology expert Prashant K Roy told news agency IANS, ‘Deepfake can pose a serious threat to a nation that is populous, has low literacy, and has ethnic sensitivities.’

Interestingly, recently, a deepfake video clip of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg went viral. The video contains scenes of Zuckerberg speaking and shaking his head. The ‘Zuckerberg’ in the video claims that an intelligence agency is behind his success. A fake video was also posted again on Facebook-owned Instagram! The Facebook authorities said that they would not remove the video. However, Facebook has promised to develop deepfake video detection technology. They will remove all adverse videos, but not those which are not harmful. Meanwhile, Microsoft has also invested heavily in deepfake video detection. However, expressing concern about deepfake, experts said that removing deepfake content will be more difficult than removing fake news or false information. At the same time, distorted videos will create more confusion among people about recent events and issues. The situation may be such that people will not be able to determine the validity of what they see with their own eyes. Trust will be lost. Rogues will use this opportunity to create fake videos or content to try to discredit specific individuals, groups, and communities.

Your life is hacked on a daily basis; your data is used for business purposes in the name of self-improvement. However, many governments turn a blind eye for the sake of business interests.

Worryingly, more than a thousand sound recordings of customer interactions with Google Assistant have been leaked recently. The US web giant has themself admitted to the matter. But they did not give information about how it was leaked. Companies like Google and Amazon claim that they use these audio recordings to improve the responses of their smart assistants. Google Assistant interacts with you or helps you when you verbally command it to do something. But the surprising thing is that even though others, including Google, keep this information for their own improvement, the AI instantly finds out who the voice is from, which phone it was spoken from, and where it was spoken from. Your life is hacked on a daily basis; your data is used for business purposes in the name of self-improvement. However, many governments turn a blind eye for the sake of business interests. Due to this, no exemplary action is taken against these giant institutions.

Did you think?

Let us take a look at an incident from Bangladesh. Two years ago, in January, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested a young man for allegedly sexually abusing a boy in Barisal. The security forces told the media that the 21-year-old had recorded a video of the torture scene on his mobile phone a year and a half ago. Google forwarded the information to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). They reported this information to CID. He was then identified and arrested by the Cyber Investigation and Operations Department of the CID. NCMEC works on various issues related to children’s rights, including stopping child sexual abuse and eradicating child pornography. US-registered technology companies Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have formally informed NCMEC of various information related to child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in their networks. CID has been associated with NCMEC for three years. According to the information received, the investigation agency has been conducting operations since December. Before this, an 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by her father-in-law and mother-in-law in August last year in Turag. The couple kept the video on their mobile phones. That video was also given to NCMEC by Google. It also adds the IMEI number of the couple’s mobile phones. CID arrested them on 29 December last year.

It cannot be denied that Google has played a very positive role in terms of crime and violence. But in the name of service, they are observing every private moment, and we must be vigilant. Because when the state considers a citizen a threat, these technology institutions can be asked for information about them at any time. Sometimes the companies give under compulsion, sometimes they don’t. But with AI, the state has found an alternative. Israel’s importance as one of the best in AI technology grew overnight among the rulers of Muslim countries. In case of no formal relationship, surveillance technology can be imported from them through alternative routes. Because the more personal the information you can obtain, the easier it becomes to regulate them. The recent situation of Hefazet Islam and other opposition leaders proves this. But we, the general public, are not safe either. Whether we are considered as rivals rather than common people is independent of the individual. As a result, when exposed to technology, insecurity increases. But it cannot be refuted. Therefore, the only option is to be coerced into accepting the fact. There is still hope, though; undoubtedly, new technology will be developed to evade this demon.

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ArtIQulate is a publication associated with the Adenauer Fellowship, a scholarship programme by the Media Programme Asia, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Ltd.
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Ibrahim Khalil

Deputy Editor at Magic Lanthon, film and media-based magazine in Bangladesh

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