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What happens when AI gets it All Incorrect?

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THERE has been a lot in the media about Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially since a deepfake video appeared online supposedly featuring the financial expert Martin Lewis recommending some investment or other. 

I believe I may have recently come into contact with an AI program and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. About two years ago, I self-published my book There Is No Climate Crisis as a paperback and ebook using Amazon Kindle. (Even though I have had seven or eight previous books published by mainstream houses, this time I either had to ditch the book or self-publish as my agent explained that no publisher would dare release a title questioning the climate-catastrophist cult and similarly no bookshop would dare stock it.)

A couple of weeks ago I got a warning from Amazon that my book might be withdrawn from sale due to a typographical error and that I needed to correct this error if it were to remain on sale. In a chapter about the utter uselessness of supposedly ‘renewable energy’, I had written concerning wind turbines:‘ . . . obviously the amounts used depend on the size of the turbine’.Amazon ‘helpfully’ informed me that ‘the amounts used depend on the size of’should be ‘the amounts used depends on the size of’.

I might not be the most literate person but I do understand that the word ‘amounts’is a plural and therefore the following verb should be ‘depend’and not ‘depends’ as suggested by Amazon. I used the plural form as I was referring to the quantities of different raw materials – concrete, copper, steel etc – needed to build a wind turbine. I had two options: stick with what I had written and risk having the book removed from sale, or make the change recommended by Amazon which would make most readers think I am illiterate.

Given that the book had already been on sale for two years without any problems, what I suspect has happened is that Amazon has recently implemented a new all-singing all-dancing AI program to review its Kindle books and pick up any mistakes which need to be corrected. Somehow an error has got into the exciting new AI program and it doesn’t understand when to use the singular form of a verb and when to use the plural. Amazon does give authors the facility to respond to problems its AI program raises. I have written back to Amazon several times explaining the grammatical rules governing the use of singulars and plurals, but each time I get a response insisting I change the text to the grammatically incorrect ‘the amounts used depends on the size of’Given that it’s probably the same AI program reviewing authors’ responses which made the grammatical mistake in the first place, I may be caught in a trap.

Now, you might be wondering what this trivial incident has to do with you. We’re assured that one of the key advantages of AI is a reduction in human error. But what if the AI system makes an error? Will humans be able to correct this?

For example, in 2008 Australian Quantas flight QF72 from Singapore to Perth had a software glitch. While the flight was proceeding normally, the computer for some still-unidentified reason believed the Airbus A330 was flying at a dangerous angle nose-up and was about to stall and crash. The computer overrode the pilots’ controls and put the plane into a steep dive which injured  many passengers and almost plunged it into the sea. The pilots managed to save the plane and make an emergency landing at a remote military airbase. But what would have happened if the plane’s computer system had been using AI? Would it have allowed the pilots to save the plane? Or would it have assumed they were deliberately trying to crash the plane (as is believed to have happened in at least one case) and blocked them from taking control?

Or imagine you run a small business in a deprived area and most of your customers pay in cash, which you deposit in your bank to pay your staff and other bills. One day, the bank installs a brilliant new AI system to identify any customers involved in money-laundering for drug gangs in your area. As you tend to use cash, the AI system picks you out as behaving suspiciously and closes your account. How will you then persuade the system that it has made a mistake?

Perhaps you have an unusual name. The AI program checking for fraudulent bank accounts reviews all accounts held in the UK and finds one belonging to a person with the same name and the same or similar date of birth as you. It concludes that this is so unlikely to be coincidence that you must be a fraud using someone else’s details. Your bank account is blocked and you are told by the bank (the AI program) to verify your identity. You comply. But as it’s the AI program which originally decided you were a fraud that checks your answer, it rejects your proof of identity. You phone your bank to get this sorted out as your direct debits are not being paid and you are getting all kinds of grief. After many hours waiting for your call to be answered by one of the few people left in the customer service department, you explain the situation. Now your problem is whether the person you are speaking to has the authority to override what the AI program is saying, namely that you are a fraud.

Ill-informed media journalists may witter on excitedly about all the benefits AI will bring. And for many of us there will be benefits. But for some, AI will just be Authoritarian Idiocy – the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare from which there is seemingly no escape.

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David Craig
David Craig
David Craig's latest book THERE IS NO CLIMATE CRISIS is available as a paperback or ebook from Amazon

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