Published by Agnes on the 22nd March 2023
As our reliance on technology and AI grows, it's important to take a step back and consider the impact on our lives, the benefits and the drawbacks.
In the wake of global lockdowns, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the most recent developments in technology, it seems that the world has gone completely bonkers. But apart from these recent world events, a series of developments and major moves by various players in the field of technology are demanding our urgent attention. Thanks to Large Language Learning Models like ChatGPT, we are already living in a world where we can no longer tell whether we are communicating with a human or a computer. The future isn't just knocking on our door. It is sitting on our sofa, drinking its favourite beer and watching Netflix…
Even though ChatGPT was only released in the end of November, it has already caused a ripple so large that even my 52-year-old mom knows about it. “I listened to your podcast about the future of the world”, she told me in her last whatsapp message: “You've got a nice voice and I like listening to it, but what you are saying isn't exactly groundbreaking. ”
Instead of being offended by her all-too-honest comment, I took a moment to pause. The bubble us tech- and start-up-people live in sometimes causes us to forget that the world out there isn't blind and death. By now, even my grandfather has figured out how to use WhatsApp. Automated check-outs at supermarkets, floor-cleaning robots and other technological advances have become so common that their previous inconceivability barely raises an eyebrow.
All this leads me to believe that it's in fact the tech-world that has some waking up to do. As we sit in our big city offices, VR meetings, living rooms or digital nomad hipster cafés it's easy to forget that the people outside our respective bubbles have adapted much faster than we ever thought possible. It's also easy to forget that it may in fact be us tech people who are missing a big part of the picture.
Before Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, the idea of a pocket-size, touchscreen device that could play music, do phone calls and serve as a personal computer seemed inconceivable. Less than twenty years later, I find myself in a fisherman village in Brazil, where even the coconut-sellers on the beach use their phone to make and receive instant payments via QR code.
While the idea of everyone having their personal digital assistant may have seemed inconceivable less than a year ago, the fact that Large Language Learning Models like ChatGPT can already write texts, brainstorm ideas and respond to all sorts of questions shows us that the technology is already there. And if human history has taught us one thing, it's that you can't put the genie back in the bottle once it's out...
The age of the personal digital assistant is coming sooner than you think. As many technological advances have become so common that their previous inconceivability barely raises an eyebrow, it's important to take a step back and consider the impact it has on our lives. In this article, we explore the benefits and the drawbacks.Let's take back control
It is pretty unlikely that people going to continue making the effort of doing research using books and google, writing their own texts, sending their own e-mails or creating their own schedule, if they can simply ask a digital assistant to do it for them.
We have already delegated a large number of tasks that used to be done by humans to machines and lines of code. So, while there will definitely be a transition and adoption period, it won't take long until we have handed over an even larger part of our daily tasks to increasingly capable tools.
Evolution is like water. It takes the path of least resistance. And while our energy-conserving tendencies have also led to undesirable results like obesity, lack of critical thinking or the unwillingness to leave a closing mousetrap before it has snapped shut, our ability to conserve energy has also played a large role in ensuring the survival of our species.
If you look at how swiftly we have adopted (and become dependent on) technologies like smartphones, search engines and social media, it stands to reason that it won't take long for us to adapt to a personal AI that takes care of our schedule, handles our day-to-day-admin, communicates with our friends (or their personal AIs) and helps us stay on top of our long-term-goals.
But the question of whether digital assistants are going to be part of our daily life only serves to cover up a much more crucial and urgent question:
Who is going to own (and control) them?
As the global headlines are filled with news of the Ukraine war or Kim Kardashian's divorce, global players like Alphabet (formerly Google), Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft (which seems to be the only company still proudly carrying its old name) have quietly started making their moves. Microsoft has not only released an AI-powered version of Bing, but recently confirmed another 10 billion dollar investment in ChatGPT, while both Alphabet and Meta have announced that they would be releasing their own versions.
It is pretty clear that the most recent and upcoming developments are going to seep into all areas of life. Apart from the fact that much of the work that is currently still done by humans will soon become redundant, there are much larger issues that need our urgent attention. The battle that is being fought isn't really about who is going to create the best next generation AI-powered digital assistant. It's about who is going to own the data and private information that the end user is going to supply to it. It is also about who is going to control what information and which sources these digital assistants will share (or withhold) from us.
We have come to believe that if we do not want to end up in an AI-controlled dystopia à la 1984,we cannot leave it to the governments and multinational tech companies. Instead, we have to step up to the challenge of co-creating a future that does not completely swallow up our freedom and turn us into passive consumers. It is for this reason that we need to start working toward a reality where personal digital assistants (and the data we supply to them) are not owned by multinational companies, but by the people that use them. And while private ownership does not resolve all the ethical questions that the rise of AI, Language Learning Models and other technological advances are raising, this will at least form an important step in finding a solution that - at the very least - leaves us a little bit of wiggle room.
We’re building an open-source, self-hosted personal digital assistant. In this article, we present our arguments for why this is a better alternative to digital assistants owned by big tech companies.Your data, your rules
Check out our other articles on this topic.
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