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At TED2023, My Eyes Were Opened.

Two months ago, I knew very little about AI and was just viewing ChatGPT as an improved assistant. Going to TED opened my eyes to the reality of our current world. Being in innovation, I must consider the impact of what is likely to be the biggest innovation in the history of humanity and for sure introduces the fastest pace of change ever.

My biggest takeaway is that we are at a point of acceleration never seen in history.

AI has been released without any guardrails through Open AI and ChatGPT in November 2022, with little understanding of its potential impact. As Greg Brockman, cofounder of OpenAI, said “Let reality hit you in the face”. This does not seem so wise to me when we’re talking about a reality that may impact humankind (and yes, I understand the “bad guys will do it anyway so we may as well do“ argument for the release of ChatGPT). Take a moment and view his TED talk.

Humanity will be quickly impacted in unknown ways with the potential of possibly destroying it (per the talk from Decision theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky). What we do know is that AI lacks common sense (check Yeyin Chi’s talk) and many speakers (including Greg Brockman from open AI and Gary Marcus, an AI Prognosticator) agreed that regulations are needed and quickly.

The conference also raised issues around privacy for our data, voice, and image (per the talk from Tom Graham of Metaphysics who showed us how the technology can use somebody's voice and image to create fake images that are at this stage untraceable), as well as lack of privacy of our own brain waves and thoughts (as per Nita Farahany talk).

On the other hand, there may well be some exponentially positive things happening.

A key highlight on global warming:

  • We’re making progress and potentially at the inflection point with the hope for a possible acceleration of the good. For instance, with the price of solar or battery becoming competitive (Al Gore) or forest rehabilitation in Africa as shared in her talk by Wanjira Mathai. Hannah Ritchie in her talk suggests we may be “the first generation to be sustainable” because while we have made progress on health, poverty, literacy, child mortality, and crop yield, it has been done at a price of increased emission, we may be able to avoid further damage with affordable low carbon technology.

Simple ideas can be impactful:

  • Sheena Meade presented the idea of automatic cleaning of criminal records rather than the person having to fight bureaucracy, an idea that can impact three million people and have a huge impact on their ability to find a job or an apartment.

  • Amy Baxter’s approach to pain using vibration and cold as alternatives to opioids was interesting. You can check her company - Pain Care Labs.

  • The amazing talk by Alua Arthurwhich, a death doula, explaining how supporting the person dying and their family help us all live more fully, had the whole audience close to tears.

  • Changing the concept of foster care to encourage care by family and friends rather than strangers was presented in the emotional talk from Sixto Cancel, who was raised in the foster care system. Later in life, he discovered that he had biological family members who could have raised him if only they knew about him.

  • Training every health provider in understanding the breadth of contraceptive options so they can prescribe the best options rather than requiring specialists or clinics. Making effective contraception more accessible is a particularly important approach in the post-Roe vs Wade era where half the pregnancies are unplanned (Mark Edwards)

  • Using soil-based material or recycled tires to build houses, avoiding the impact of cement in construction as presented in Vinu Daniel's talk.

  • There is good news in the world, yet the media are incentivized to share only the worst of it. And if you are curious check Future Crunch created by Angus Hervey.

  • Embracing being human is more important than ever whether it is through collective singing or creating art, setting goals to embrace possibilities (as in the presentation by Ben Zender the conductor of the amazing Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra), creating a sisterhood with support and mentoring for girls to make it easier to stay in school (Angie Murimirwa)

  • It takes courage to do the right things but it can make a huge difference: Pussy Riot's opposition to Putin and Nadia Tolokonnikova and her partner's willingness to be jailed for their convictions exposed the emperor in his nakedness. You may want to check Nadya’s amazing talk and message to Putin.

In the field of education, there's hope that education can be uplifted through tech as well as dealing with differences in gender outcomes:

  • An AI tutor. as Sal Kahn suggested with his new AI-assisted chatbot Khanigo, can help students get customized tutoring using the Socratic method of asking questions rather than providing the answers

  • Through gamification (like in the talk by Luis Von Ahn, the DuoLingo founder and CEO)

  • The importance of addressing the current gap in boys' outcomes versus girls in schools, with more girls now going to college than boys as it seems that programming and approaches leave boys behind. Richard Reeves suggested bringing the idea of holding boys back one year to help with maturity as well as having more male teachers as role models for success

Insights on tech and our health:

  • The potential for a different approach to diseases and injury whether through CRISPR or new ways to heal previously incurable conditions (Anna Greka and her research in cellular dysfunction) or growing back your bones or cartilage.

  • The new world is going to involve invisible tech where our AI interacts with the world using any language and emotions (check Imran Chaudhri talk) and becomes a companion and assistant knowing more about yourself than you do (since it can analyze data that we cannot).

The interdisciplinary and connection between disciplines :

  • CRISPR, for example, is not only a medical advance for curing diseases but also a tool to help the environment through its use with cattle which can limit their methane emission by affecting their microbiome (Jennifer Doudna) through precision microbiome editing.

  • The new model for a fast and successful initiative started with private funds but potentially scaled up through private-public partnerships as illustrated in Peru. Carlos Rodriguez Pastor explained how he created new private schools, and maternity clinics that are both affordable and scalable to boost the middle class and he hopes Peru can become a developed country soon.

  • Several speakers highlighted the need for artists and technologists to be influencing each other if we want to have a human-centered world with AI.

This left me to wonder about the price of this shiny and promising new world as some speakers, often immersed in the AI world for decades, were also suggesting the potential for major impacts such as:

  • The increasing potential for political disasters and civil unrest rising because of divisions, and the increase of dictatorships and anocracy (partial democracy). In her talk, Barbara Walker, a civil war expert, suggested that if the US were on the CIA list of countries at risk for civil war (the CIA is not allowed to monitor US citizens) it is likely we would be on the watch list because of anocracy of the country (2016 meddling of election by the Russians, 2018 white house refusal to release information with congress and 2020 refusal of the president to accept the results of the election) as well as citizens forming political party based on ideology or identity, both of which create more risks for political violence. Historically civil wars are started by groups that were once politically dominant and are losing that dominance: in the US as well as England, NZ, or Canada, it would be white men, who are becoming less important due to demographic change.

  • A world where we need to fight for institutional regulations for transparency (what is in the black box of AI), ownership of our data and images, and push for common sense in AI to avoid threats to democracies (Gary Marcus) and possible catastrophes.

I am glad I went to TED because now I cannot pretend that I am unaware. Spending the week listening and talking to those who have been in the field for decades and realizing that are all surprised and somewhat alarmed by the pace of acceleration and all agree that we do not know where we are going and what may be the consequences, left me worried for the world and as a mother for the future of my kids and humanity. It seems like a few tech people have decided to take humanity on a plane ride without asking, and they are hoping to learn to fly the plane while in the air. Doing so, the rest of us are left hoping it can fly and we can partner with AI for an amazing ride, rather than being taken over by AGI or crash all together while learning!

I am planning to keep learning more about AI and its broad implications for the world. Stay tuned for my next newsletters.

In the meantime, I am enjoying owning my own brain without AI knowing it better than me and returning to my meditation practice, taking a breath at a time and acknowledging that only the present is real. This also makes me cherish connections, relationships, and in-person time even more because, when everything else can be delegated to AI, that part I hope will remains real and meaningful.

Big hug to you all,

P.S. As I corrected my article using Grammarly (my usual writing approach) out of curiosity, I decided to edit through ChatGPT. While I simply asked ChatGPT to edit and clarify, instead it gave me a summary. Here’s a segment from the summary - take a look:

“Many of the speakers at TED focused on the incredible advancements being made in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). They spoke of a future where machines will be able to think, reason, and learn at a level far beyond what we can currently imagine. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we live and work, from curing diseases to improving our ability to predict natural disasters.”

Now that you’ve read the above article, judge for yourself! I never wrote these words nor did I mean half of those, but this is ChatGPT’s take on my article.

My thoughts - if it were written by a human, I would say that person has their own agenda and biases!

What are your thoughts? For now, the AI I’m sticking to using is Grammarly.


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