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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Asher Berlin


The Setonian
Column

Around the Corner: The Case for an AI Ban

2023 is the year of AI. Tools like Chat-GPT, Midjourney and others have become ubiquitous in our society and popular culture; from South Park to Snapchat, AI has captured discourse like never before. The rapid advancement of technology has opened the door to possibilities that were once restricted to science fiction. AI’s recent developments have also suggested that it may overtake us sooner than was previously thought. A survey of 356 AI experts in 2022 found that half of those experts believed that a human-level AI would be developed before 2061. The vast majority — 90% — thought it would be developed within the century. While the same experts also caution against fear-mongering, there is a possibility we will confront artificial life with equivalent or greater intelligence than us within our (for my readers in college) lifetime. 

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Around the Corner: Things are about to get a lot worse

The announcement last Thursday that former President Donald Trump had been indicted immediately plunged the United States into wholly uncharted waters. For the first time in our country’s 247-year history, a former commander in chief will face criminal charges after leaving office. I will not debate the merits of the case against Trump or the motivations of the prosecutors pursuing it. Whether or not Trump is guilty does not change the profound consequences of this indictment that will reverberate in our political system forever. Just or not, this indictment opens a new and bloodier chapter in American politics.

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Around the Corner: Sentient computers? Never.

A common trope in science fiction is “what if the computer comes to life?” The plot of “Free Guy” (2021) — a mediocre film — for example, revolved around a nonplayer character in a video game gaining sentience and struggling to preserve it. The problem of what to do with a sentient computer is an enormously complex one — too complex, indeed, to address in this column. There is, however, another more fundamental question: How do we know when a computer has gained sentience?

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Around the Corner: Averting the end of truth

AI has gripped the United States, as technologies like ChatGPT and Midjourney have astonished the nation with their uncanny abilities. Midjourney, an AI art generator, can convert a prompt into an art piece in around a minute, in any style or medium. It has effectively demonstrated that art, a bastion of human creativity, may fall to the machines sooner than was thought. Further, TikTok has seen another form of AI trending: deepfakes.

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Around the Corner: We cannot abandon nuclear power

Our efforts to fight global warming, while increasingly significant, have not been enough. The prospect that warming will be halted at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the boundary between the bad and the disastrous, is growing less likely by the year. Indeed, the World Meteorological Organization estimates that there is a 50% chance that temperatures will reach 1.5 degree warming within the next five years. Given the increasing severity of the situation, averting this fate would be a monumental feat. The UN Environment Programme has warned that carbon emissions would need to be slashed by at least 45% by 2030 to accomplish it. If this target is to be met, significant changes will need to be made in nearly every facet of our lives. However, the most important facet is energy: the foundation of the modern world. Nearly three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector. Evidently, reducing emissions will require significant changes to how we produce and use energy. In short, clean energy generation methods must replace fossil fuels.

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It's Happened Before: The battle for America's soul

In 1892, an immigrant from the Russian Empire stepped off a ship into the bustling city of Boston with nothing but the clothes on his back. He did not come to the country by choice: Indeed, when he was younger, he did not imagine that he would ever leave his village, much less Europe. The situation in Russia had changed, however, and those of his Jewish faith faced increasing violence and attacks by mobs, while the state hardly lifted a finger to stop them. In the United States, he worked hard and brought his family still in Russia over, one by one. It was a good thing too: If they had remained, they would in all likelihood have been murdered by the Germans in the Holocaust. The U.S. saved his life, and the life of his family. It also saved the life of his unborn descendants, who came to prosper in a way inconceivable in the “old country.” That man’s last name was Berlin — he was my great-great-great-grandfather.

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It's Happened Before: With social media, it actually hasn’t

Public speech has traditionally been, well, public. Before the advent of the internet and social media, if one wished to make their voice heard they merely had to find a printing press or, failing that, climb up onto a soapbox and speak. The great movements of history have often been sparked by public speech. Martin Luther, for instance, kicked off the Protestant Reformation by nailing (or maybe pasting) a pamphlet to a door; likewise, Thomas Paine made a significant contribution to the American Revolution with his pamphlet. Contemporary political campaigns also produce public speech in the form of speeches and posters. The beauty of all of this is that, at least in this country, it is free. Speech does not have to be popular to be heard. We can criticize our leaders and their policies; we can even criticize each other. We might find the speech of others horrendous or untrue. Yet their speech has an opportunity to provoke, challenge and perhaps even sway other minds.

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It's Happened Before: A more violent normal

The late Roman Republic is, in many minds, synonymous with political violence, civil war and the erosion of republican values. Less remembered, however, is how it got there. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and neither did it — or at least its republican version — fall in a day. Thus the long path to Caesar began with a man who, unlike Caesar, never got a Shakespeare play: Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. Gracchus’ life and career are surprisingly unimportant in examining his impact. Suffice it to say that, after pursuing radical populist solutions to economic problems and obtaining political power through uncustomary methods, he incurred the wrath of a conservative faction of the Roman senate. Given his policies, this was unsurprising. What was surprising is how they stopped him: by gathering a mob to massacre him and his followers. Violence had, for the first time, become a political tactic, one that soon became irresistible.

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It’s Happened Before: Putin’s scare tactics won’t work

 In the 1930s, Britain was terrified of the bomber. It was thought of as the ultimate weapon: It could swoop in virtually undetected and deliver devastation of biblical proportions upon vulnerable cities, wiping them out. A massive aerial first strike, some military experts claimed, could bring Britain to its knees before it had a chance to fight back. In World War II, these ideas were put to the test. Nazi Germany, victorious in France by 1940, moved on to Britain. 

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It's Happened Before: To pardon, or not to pardon

In a recessionary economy, there is one group whose future looks very bright: Trump’s lawyers. Now fighting battles on three legal fronts, former President Trump is spending millions to hold off a growing cast of opponents. Initially only dealing with a House of Representatives investigation into his involvement in the Jan. 6 debacle, Trump now has to contend with a New York state investigation into financial impropriety and, since early August, an FBI investigation into illegal removal of classified material from the White House. Out of this staggering litany of incredible misconduct, the most dangerous to Trump is his potential breach of federal laws relating to classified material. On a memorable day in American history, the FBI searched Trump’s property at Mar-a-Lago and recovered, among other things, top-secret material, which, were it to fall into the wrong hands, might devastate American national security. While Trump has faced legal problems before, it seems that in this investigation he might finally face real consequences, which could include a 10-year sentence.

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