Ruwandi Perera tackles the conundrum of living with AI powered chatbots

Like or hate it, chatbots powered by generative AI technology are here to stay – and we’re using them! We may or may not actively use chatbots such as ChatGPT or Gemini to get things done –like writing an email or coming up with a product slogan – but we’d certainly have consumed content created by them because many people and organisations are using them today.

So is it good? Maybe…

Or is it bad? Maybe…

Like most things invented by humankind (e.g. the wheel, plastic or even Wikipedia), chatbots are neither good nor bad; it depends on who uses them, for what purpose and how.

For instance, if you’re struggling with a complicated email, it’s perfectly harmless to use a chatbot like ChatGPT to have it written for you. However, if you’re working on a cover letter when you apply for a new job, things could get a bit grey.

You might use it to align your thoughts or sound smart and the latter could deceive your prospective employer.

Let’s take another scenario – one that chatbots are increasingly accused of.

Assume that you’re a business owner who wants to replace customer support agents with chatbots. It’s bad when you think of the lost jobs but good in terms of cost savings that will help with business continuity.

So it boils down to how ethical our choices are when we use any technology, be it software, a manufacturing machine or an AI-powered robot.

Technology is meant to be used and controlled by humans but there are concerns that it could end up working the other way.

It’s true that advanced technology can perform faster, undertake bigger tasks and work tirelessly compared to humans. Yet, whether they’re necessarily better or more accurate is up for discussion. A case in point is when Google’s Gemini caused a viral uproar when it generated images of German Nazi soldiers in World War II, which included people of colour.

As with other technologies, chatbots are controlled by human beings – both users and creators. As users therefore, we must control how and why we use a bot to write proposals for us, inspire us with branding ideas or summarise a book we’re trying to finish reading.

And as creators, Google, Microsoft and other tech companies must ensure that chatbots don’t cause problems.

For example, Google’s Gemini restricts election related questions being answered in countries where active voting is taking place. Anyone who asks a question will receive a polite message along these lines: ‘I’m still learning how to answer this question. In the meantime, try Google Search.’

So in a world where authenticity and originality are becoming scarce, it is up to humans to draw the line between what we will and won’t allow artificial intelligence to do.

The danger lies with humans.

Although AI can provide us with information on what’s right and wrong, chatbots can’t make ethical choices if we ask them to do something illegal like create ransomware. They will do as requested unless they’re created or programmed to do otherwise. Even then, the programming is done by humans who remain in the driving seat.

Humans can easily weaponise AI powered chatbots for activities that range from spreading lies and rumours to planning a nuclear attack. The need of the hour therefore, is not to overcome AI or try to defeat it but ensure the ethical use of this technology.

Perhaps in addition to learning coding, programming, and other aspects of information technology in schools and educational institutes, there should be an emphasis on social responsibility. And the ethical use of technology should be in the training manual for new recruits in companies.

This dilemma is nothing new and it can be safely assumed that there were similar challenges when people discovered fire. It would have been there when the steam engine was invented. And it was definitely there when Robert Oppenheimer and his team invented the atomic bomb.

Technology will not stop growing because humans will not stop advancing. The simple fact remains that as technology develops, so does the need for humans to be truly humane.