Why This AI Moment May Be the Real Deal

Essay by Ari Schulman: “For many years, those in the know in the tech world have known that “artificial intelligence” is a scam. It’s been true for so long in Silicon Valley that it was true before there even was a Silicon Valley.

That’s not to say that AI hadn’t done impressive things, solved real problems, generated real wealth and worthy endowed professorships. But peek under the hood of Tesla’s “Autopilot” mode and you would find odd glitches, frustrated promise, and, well, still quite a lot of people hidden away in backrooms manually plugging gaps in the system, often in real time. Study Deep Blue’s 1997 defeat of world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and your excitement about how quickly this technology would take over other cognitive work would wane as you learned just how much brute human force went into fine-tuning the software specifically to beat Kasparov. Read press release after press release of FacebookTwitter, and YouTube promising to use more machine learning to fight hate speech and save democracy — and then find out that the new thing was mostly a handmaid to armies of human grunts, and for many years relied on a technological paradigm that was decades old.

Call it AI’s man-behind-the-curtain effect: What appear at first to be dazzling new achievements in artificial intelligence routinely lose their luster and seem limited, one-off, jerry-rigged, with nothing all that impressive happening behind the scenes aside from sweat and tears, certainly nothing that deserves the name “intelligence” even by loose analogy.

So what’s different now? What follows in this essay is an attempt to contrast some of the most notable features of the new transformer paradigm (the T in ChatGPT) with what came before. It is an attempt to articulate why the new AIs that have garnered so much attention over the past year seem to defy some of the major lines of skepticism that have rightly applied to past eras — why this AI moment might, just might, be the real deal…(More)”.