(p. B4) After years of companies emphasizing the potential of artificial intelligence, researchers say it is now time to reset expectations.
With recent leaps in the technology, companies have developed more systems that can produce seemingly humanlike conversation, poetry and images. Yet AI ethicists and researchers warn that some businesses are exaggerating the capabilities—hype that they say is brewing widespread misunderstanding and distorting policy makers’ views of the power and fallibility of such technology.
“We’re out of balance,” says Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a Seattle-based research nonprofit.
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The belief that AI is becoming—or could ever become—conscious remains on the fringes in the broader scientific community, researchers say.
In reality, artificial intelligence encompasses a range of techniques that largely remain useful for a range of uncinematic back-office logistics like processing data from users to better target them with ads, content and product recommendations.
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The gap between perception and reality isn’t new. Mr. Etzioni and others pointed to the marketing around Watson, the AI system from International Business Machines Corp. that became widely known after besting humans on the quiz show “Jeopardy.” After a decade and billions of dollars in investment, the company said last year it was exploring the sale of Watson Health, a unit whose marquee product was supposed to help doctors diagnose and cure cancer.
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Elizabeth Kumar, a computer-science doctoral student at Brown University who studies AI policy, says the perception gap has crept into policy documents. Recent local, federal and international regulations and regulatory proposals have sought to address the potential of AI systems to discriminate, manipulate or otherwise cause harm in ways that assume a system is highly competent. They have largely left out the possibility of harm from such AI systems’ simply not working, which is more likely, she says.
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 5, 2022, and has the title “Tech Giants Pour Billions Into AI, but Hype Doesn’t Always Match Reality.”)