w/Wiser! #123 - 28th April 2023
You may have seen the news that Southern Spain is in meltdown, which is where I live. That's maybe a bit melodramatic but it's not far from the truth. We've had July temperatures of mid 30s for the last couple of weeks of April. Cordoba, known as the frying pan of Spain, recorded possibly the hottest April day ever on the Iberian peninsula this week. Just short of 39C.
The issue though is not the heat, but the water, or lack of it.
Meanwhile, in the tech economy the story that I've been meaning to write up for a few weeks now is about the AI companion chatbot, Replika. Replika is unique for its utility as a sexualised companion for Replika users. Which was fine until Replika decided to de-sexualise the algorithim and give Replika avatars a permanent headache.
In other news, lots about generative AI and the huge weight of productivity tools being launched. Surely unprecedented in terms of volume and pace. Away from AI, it's earnings season with good results form Microsoft and Meta, which I'll write up for next week when they're all in and I've digested the conclusions.
The other big story I think is worth watching is China's rollout of a Central Bank Digital Currency. There's a growing "surveillance" narrative that, IMHO, is a distraction from the real story here, which is that China is building a 21st century digital economy based on blockchain technology and a CBDC at the heart of it. If anything is going to disrupt the USA's dominance of global trading currency, it's this! Watch this space.
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What happens when the AI chatbot breaks your heart?
"I think technology really increased human ability. But technology cannot produce compassion." - Dalai Lama
Chatbots are computer systems that converse and interact with human users using spoken, written, and visual languages. Whilst they are used in many situations, this week's Premium article looks at a specific use case of a chatbot built for companionship.
Companionship AI bots, such as those created on the Replika app, became increasingly popular during the Covid pandemic, with users developing close and personal relationships with the bots for emotional support, companionship, and even sexual gratification. However, a recent software update to Replika scaled back the bots' sexual capacity, leaving some users heartbroken, exposing the levels of connection that can be established between man and the machine.
Here’s The Thing: Experts warn that tethering one's heart to software comes with severe risks, and there are few ethical protocols for tools that affect users' emotional well-being. There’s no doubt that we are going see a growing adoption of companion AI bots, not just for intimacy (I can’t believe I’m writing this). With loneliness levels rising in an ageing population, the tech companies are going to have to start designing software that doesn’t cause emotional strain to users. These concerns are being played out on Replika, where the relationships with AI companions appear to be connecting at a very human and intimate level.
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China launches digital yuan to pay all public workers in Changshu
China is launching a project to pay all public workers in the city of Changshu in digital yuan, marking the country's biggest push to circulate its Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). The CBDC will be issued and monitored by the Chinese government, raising concerns about surveillance and control.
Here’s The Thing: Chinese citizens lead the world in mobile-payment adoption. They’re already leaving digital footprints across the Chinese economy as the nation moves rapidly towards a cashless society. Opponents cite surveillance as the big issue, but the issue of surveillance is a mute point. The thing to watch is how the CCP integrate the digital yuan with popular payment superapps like Alipay and WeChat Pay. Consumer adoption is the thing to watch, not listen to the surveillance narrative. China is building an international digital ecosystem and trading economy and the CBDC is at the heart of it. This is how it is going to challenge the USD as the world’s global reserve currency.
The debate around AI's impact on humanity is divided
The debate around AI's potential impact on humanity is divided between those who believe it will lead to infinite progress and those who believe it will lead to collapse. OpenAI's co-founder, Greg Brockman, explained that they are releasing their language models incrementally to gather feedback and ensure they benefit all humanity.
Here’s The Thing: the overarching framework shaping this debate is whether technology will allow us to transcend our limits or whether we must accept new limits to avoid collapse. It’s a speculative argument, whichever side you’re on. Do we throw it out there and see what happens, even if it ends in doom? Or do we hold back, and never realise the utopian dream of an artificial future?
The ethics of military drones: a growing concern
On the subject of AI's impact on humanity, the ethics of using artificial intelligence in warfare is not new. The debate can be traced back to the 1950s. Now it’s being reported that the UK’s Royal Air Force is developing mini-helicopter AI controlled drones that can fire missiles at targets four miles away. Air force chiefs ordered the new lightweight drones after they played a successful role in Ukraine’s resistance against Moscow.
Here’s The Thing: drones have been linked with civilian deaths in many conflict zones. The absence of any international laws specifically referring to the use of drones, or facial recognition technology to detect targets, doesn’t help. The issue is that the technologies are prone to error and unlawful death and injury. In Libya and Gaza, drones were reported to have killed people “autonomously, and independent of human control”. In the year when AI appears to have taken over the world, the debate is increasingly going to focus on the morality, legality and ethics of artificial intelligence and the use of technology.
British student uses ChatGPT to successful challenge parking fine
A British student successfully appealed a £60 parking fine with the help of OpenAI's chatbot ChatGPT. The student input her details and the bot generated a personalised response in minutes, leading to the fine being revoked. This case is similar to that of another Brit who used ChatGPT to reduce a £100 penalty to just £15.
Here’s The Thing: the role of AI in law is not a new subject. In 2020, a California task force dedicated to exploring ways to expand access to legal services recommended allowing unlicensed practitioners to represent clients. Also in 2020, the American Bar Association told judges using AI tools to be mindful of biases instilled in the tools themselves. And UNESCO, the international organisation dedicated to preserving culture, has a free online course covering the basics of what AI can offer legal systems. The point is that AI is proving very effective in handling the bulk of the routine tasks undertaken by lawyers, at a fraction of the cost, making legal advice available to millions of people who currently can not afford it.
Here's an example of what the everyday use of ChatGPT might look like...
Portugal issues its first NFT collectible stamp
Called the “Crypto Stamp,” this is a physical and digital postage stamp issued as a digital token, aka NFT, or Non-Fungible Token. This means that the digital asset is created and verified using Blockchain technology.
Here’s The Thing: it’s a novel idea that’s aimed more to the stamp collector market rather than the conventional utility of paying for a letter to get from A to B. And this isn’t Europe’s first NFT stamp. The Austrian Post introduced the first blockchain-based NFT crypto stamps with a physical digital twin in 2019, and has collaborated with the Netherlands PostNL to launch a new edition of Crypto Stamps in 2022.
Humane's wearable AI assistant
Humane is a startup you probably hadn’t heard about before the recent Ted Talk that demonstrated their wearable AI assistant. Founded by ex-Apple employees, Humane has created a new wearable device that acts as a personal assistant using AI and a display projected onto the palm of your hand. It records everything you see and hear, summarises messages, emails, and calendar invites, and can be controlled by tapping or voice commands.
Here’s The Thing: who needs a battery powered screen when you’ve got the palm of your hand with you all the time. Just as Amazon are trialling cashless payments based on the unique pattern of veins in everyone’s hand, Humane’s solution combines an AI assistant and not much else. For those of us who wear glasses, this info will be projected in front of our eyes, but for the glassless masses, this looks an ideal solution (and a lot cheaper than a new iPhone.)
AI is coming, but not for me?
A Pew Research survey of over 11,000 US adults found that while 62% believe AI will have a major impact on workers generally over the next 20 years, only 28% expect a major impact on themselves. 32% believe AI will be more harmful than helpful to workers generally, with 35% expecting only a minor impact to themselves. The survey was conducted in December 2022, before the release of advanced models like Bing, Bard, and GPT-4.
What's happening in Brand Strategy?
This week's updates to the Brand Strategy Collection of 250 Consumer Brands in Emergin Tech:
- Visa: announce an “ambitious crypto product roadmap” to aid the mainstream adoption of public blockchain networks.
- Nike: released a collection of limited-edition sneakers with an embedded chip, which connected the digital and physical worlds by linking the NFT to the NFC chip in the shoes.
- Sneaker brand, Asics: limited-edition shoe and tie-up with blockchain platform Solana Pay to offer exclusive NFTs tied to the purchase of shoes.
- IKEA: partnered with a design agency, Space10, to experiment with AI-generated furniture designs.
- Qantas: announced that it would use AI to determine the most fuel-efficient flight paths for its new 20-hour-long flights.
- P&G: interview with P&G's head of brand marketing who discusses the use of AI and algorithms as cheaper and more efficient than traditional ad-testing methods, citing P&G's savings of $65 million in 2022.
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