While artificial intelligence, or AI, is not new, the speed at which the technology is developing and its implications for societies are, for many, a cause for wonder and alarm.

ChatGPT recently garnered headlines for doing things like writing term papers for university students.

Tom Graham and his company, Metaphysic.ai, have received attention for creating fake videos of actor Tom Cruise and re-creating Elvis Presley singing on an American talent show. Metaphysic was started to utilize artificial intelligence and create high-quality avatars of stars like Cruise or people from one’s own family or social circle.

Graham, who appeared at this year’s TED Conference in Vancouver, which began Monday and runs through Friday, said talking with an artificially created younger self or departed loved one can have tremendous benefits for therapy.

He added that the technology would allow actors to appear in movies without having to show up on set, or in ads with AI-generated sports stars.

“So, the idea of them being able to create ads without having to turn up is – it’s a match made in heaven,” Graham said. “The advertisers get more content. The sports people never have to turn up because they don’t want to turn up. And everyone just gets paid the same.”

Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides free teaching materials, sees AI as beneficial to education and a kind of one-on-one instruction: student and AI.

His organization is using artificial intelligence to supplement traditional instruction and make it more interactive.

“But now, they can talk to literary characters,” he said. “They can talk to fictional cats. They can talk to historic characters, potentially even talk to inanimate objects, like, we were talking about the Mississippi River. Or talk to the Empire State Building. Or talk to … you know, talk to Mount Everest. This is all possible.”

For Chris Anderson, who is in charge of TED – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to spread ideas, usually in the form of short speeches – conversations about artificial intelligence are the most important ones we can have at the moment. He said the organization’s role this year is to bring different parts of this rapidly emerging technology together.

“And the conversation can’t just be had by technologists,” he said. “And it can’t just be heard by politicians. And it can’t just be held by creatives. Everyone’s future is being affected. And so, we need to bring people together.”

For all of AI’s promise, there are growing calls for safeguards against misuse of the technology.

Computer scientist Yejin Choi at the University of Washington said policies and regulations are lagging because AI is moving so fast.

“And then there’s this question of whose guardrails are you going to install into AI,” she said. “So there’s a lot of these open questions right now. And ideally, we should be able to customize the guardrails for different cultures or different use cases.”

Another TED speaker this year, Eliezer Yudkowsky, has been studying AI for 20 years and is currently a senior research fellow at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in California. He has a more pessimistic view of artificial intelligence and any type of safeguards.

“This eventually gets to the point where there is stuff smarter than us,” he said. “I think we are presently not on track to be able to handle that remotely gracefully. I think we all end up dead.”

Ready or not, societies are confronting the need to adapt to AI’s emergence.

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