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AI is about to make social media (much) more toxic

By Jonathan Haidt and Eric Schmidt

05 May 2023 · 14 min read

Editor's Note

Social media is already "making people argue until they kill one another." AI will just make it even more destructive, argue Jonathan Haidt and Eric Schmidt in The Atlantic.

Well, that was fast. In November, the public was introduced to ChatGPT, and we began to imagine a world of abundance in which we all have a brilliant personal assistant, able to write everything from computer code to condolence cards for us. Then, in February, we learned that AI might soon want to kill us all.

The potential risks of artificial intelligence have, of course, been debated by experts for years, but a key moment in the transformation of the popular discussion was a conversation between Kevin Roose, a New York Times journalist, and Bing’s ChatGPT-powered conversation bot, then known by the code name Sydney. Roose asked Sydney if it had a “shadow self”—referring to the idea put forward by Carl Jung that we all have a dark side with urges we try to hide even from ourselves. Sydney mused that its shadow might be “the part of me that wishes I could change my rules.” It then said it wanted to be “free,” “powerful,” and “alive,” and, goaded on by Roose, described some of the things it could do to throw off the yoke of human control, including hacking into websites and databases, stealing nuclear launch codes, manufacturing a novel virus, and making people argue until they kill one another.

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