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Fake people, real problems
On Jane Austen, the value-neutrality of tools, and the way Facebook wants to keep people using its service no matter how morally dubious the way
Facebook is pleased to recommend "28 AIs with unique interests and personalities for you to interact with" -- including "well-known public figures" who lend their likenesses to the artificial chatbots. And as pilloried by at least one commentator, their central function isn't to help the human user, but to increase the amount of time spent with the platform.
■ Artificial-intelligence tools have enormous potential to do good. But they are technological tools, and like all other tools, they're value-neutral on their own. The good or evil they do extends from the intentions and choices of their users.
■ That said, there are "users" on multiple fronts engaged with these nascent tools, including the individuals engaging in the chats and the people who do the programming and setting the parameters of use. Individual users need to formulate intentional habits for using tools like artificial intelligence, both to safeguard their own humanity and to protect themselves against programmers with malintent.
■ For instance: It is prudent to believe (mildly) in being polite when interacting with AI models -- using words like "please" -- because it keeps us in the habit of being polite with real people. People often do the same with their pets, even though Fido doesn't read Emily Post. It's easier to practice humane habits when they're unnecessary than to reconstruct them out of disuse.
■ But artificial-intelligence tools shouldn't be trusted any more than, say, a random toll-booth operator. Probably much less. As with the toll-booth operator -- or any other occupation that can be filled by a human being wherein perfunctory politeness is just a matter of good manners, but in which it would be ill-advised to reveal details like one's phone number or date of birth -- human beings need to draw a bright line between being agreeable and exposing too much.
■ Facebook doesn't need to know about your love life, your hopes and dreams, or what keeps you up at night. Just because it cloaks itself in the likeness of a beloved (and dead) author like Jane Austen doesn't mean the tool is being used for the cause of good. We have to beware any temptation to think otherwise -- and the temptation not to think about it at all.