Artificial Intelligence v Artificial Reality Avoidance

The Brain Innovation Project

One Brain. Infinite Possibilities.

According to the popular PRO-war blogger Andrey Morozov, Russia lost at least 16,000 people in the fight for the town of Avdiivka in Ukraine. He apparently committed suicide today as a result of pressure by authorities to change the numbers. Business as usual in the week of the murder of the Alexei Navalny who had the reasonable belief that a Russia led by war-mongers, megalomaniacs and kleptocrats wasn’t really a great idea for a major power in the 21st Century.

But I couldn’t really grasp what 16,000 people – flesh and blood – dying in the horrors of war meant. So I thought Artificial Intelligence (AI) might be able to help.

In the spirit of a picture tells the story of a thousand words, I asked Adobe Express (a great little programme, by the way!) to generate me an AI picture of “16,000 people dying in the horror of war”.

Seemed like a reasonable and neutral question (I didn’t even mention Ukraine or Russia).

This is what I got:

Apparently, the request is not only difficult to produce, but also violated “user policies”.

Policies about 16,000? Policies about people? Policies about dying? Policies about horrors? Policies about war?

So, taking up the suggestion to ‘try again’, I asked it to generate a picture of 16,000 people. The results were a little more helpful, but still didn’t meet either my metaphorical or real expectations of what 16,000 people might look like.

This is what I got:

So I tried again with asking to develop a picture of “horrors”.

That was easy. Afterall, we have managed to sanitize “horror” through Halloween and movies, so nothing threatening or controversial there.

This is what I got:

Undaunted by my lack of success, I asked for a picture of war, imagining that must be the cause of the ‘violation’. Apparently not, since a picture was produced, albeit not quite what I expected.

This is what I got:

So AI can do all of the above.

But put ‘16,000’, ‘people’, ‘dying’, ‘horrors’ and ‘war’ together and you are all of a sudden in the realm of meaning, context and the human experience. Combine it with moderated ‘sensitivities’ and you have…. well, nothing, except a violation of user policies. Nothing which can even begin to explain, depict, comprehend or acknowledge the reality of today’s world.

I am one of those (probably in a vanishingly small minority unless you have some Californian-style optimism) who find AI something truly astonishing, exciting and an amazing journey of humanity and intelligence.

But even AI’s most adherent admirers must admit there is a LONG, LONG way to go before the reality of the human experience is even close to being captured, let alone being represented. And that is all about context; something that even AI’s most ardent admirers realise that this is something that only humans excel at. And something that every journalist worth their salt knows is critical.

And this is just Ukraine and Russia. I wouldn’t even begin to ask about Israel and Palestine.

AI is truly astonishing and begins to change things that we can’t even begin to imagine yet. But before we bow down to its possible omnicience and resign ourselves to its potential omnipotence, we need to take a big, deep breath as humanity and figure out where we want to go. If we can’t even envisage the broad outlines of that, then let’s not expect the ‘Titans of Tech’ to wait for us to do so.

The stakes really are that high at the moment. Now is the time to understand and act.

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