Cover of book: Faking It

Toby Walsh
Faking It

This year, Microsoft laid off its entire ethics team as it began adding ChatGPT to all its products, including Bing search. ChatGPT, for those unfamiliar, is a smart language software that can answer questions, write customised content and even hold a conversation. The latest version has “100 trillion parameters” – roughly the equivalent of the number of synapses in the cerebral cortex.

This move by Microsoft is just one example of how Big Tech is quietly abandoning oversight in the mad pursuit of the artificial intelligence “arms race”. In his incisive new book Faking It: Artificial Intelligence in a Human World, leading AI researcher Toby Walsh says we should keep alive to this shift and focus less on the media hyperbole about AI.

AI itself can be a complex and daunting concept to comprehend, especially given it can vary from robots and self-driving cars to chatbots and deep fakes. Put simply, “AI is about getting computers to do tasks that humans require intelligence to do”. The name alone, however, can complicate our understanding because of a contradiction at play: AI might be about re-creating human intelligence but, because it is artificial, it can never truly match real human intelligence.

In Faking It, Walsh attempts to “reveal the reality behind all of this artificiality”. He does deft work exposing the worrying new abilities of AI – and its limits. There are conversations with ChatGPT, which can compose academic papers while simultaneously spreading misinformation; fake paintings rendered by DALL-E (software creating images from prompts), which raise questions about creativity and copyright; and bots designing new inventions, making murky legal territory for future patents.

Such new frontiers are playfully critiqued by Walsh, who shares stilted bot conversations, trick surrealist artwork and theoretical Tupperware inventions. AI can sometimes seem alarmingly smart but quite dull-witted at the same time.

Walsh explains we need real measures to better regulate AI development and to protect the public. First, we need to stop anthropomorphising technology: computers are computers, not people. AI must also be seriously put to work on the hard problems of today and not only for commercial ends. Finally, governments must step in to ensure more checks and oversight are introduced for AI. We can’t bank on Big Tech to self-regulate.

With a breezy style that confidently demystifies much about AI, Faking It equips readers to better discern and critique this disruptive technology that is likely to take over much of our lives. Walsh rightly tempers the hyperbole of headlines and highlights the uniqueness of real human intelligence to ultimately reveal how AI is far from ever acing its greatest test: passing as human. 

La Trobe University Press, 256pp, $34.99
La Trobe University Press is a Schwartz imprint

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 4, 2023 as "Faking It".

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Faking It

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