OpenAI: The Gamechanger in Decentralizing AI and Empowering Humanity
R Tamara de Silva
Think of FANG stocks, sources of news, social media and media consumption and what comes to mind? Perhaps words like Big Tech, monopolies…generally, immense power in the hands of very few centralized entities. Whether it is Google, or Facebook or Twitter or the Washington Post, one man or one large entity has monopolistic power to control everything, in a virtually unregulated manner, unchecked by anyone other than shareholders, if there are any. Your perception of reality is shaped and manipulated by in no small way by a handful of individuals and entities that wear the hats of tech titan, philosopher kings (or what passes for them) and the arbiters of what is truth itself.
My first class as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, happened to be on Plato’s Republic. The professor asked us to define what politics was. He wrote that politics was the authoritative allocation of value. What Big Tech wields is more than political power, though it also allocates value, in that it defines the contours of truth and untruth for billions of people. And just when it seems that nothing will come along to change the power balance something did, OpenAI.
But first some context. You cannot blame anyone for wanting an alternative technology to the monopolistic behemoths of Big Tech, one that promised to change the power balance at least a bit, toward the individual. A departure from our current state of being a product stripped down of privacy, for data points on consumption, having no choice but to sign wholly one-sided terms of service agreements just to make a phone call-to an actual being with a right to have some privacy, to control what information and part of their being they share, etc . It all sounds counterfactual, but this was the promise and appeal of the technology behind Bitcoin and Ethereum- the promise of decentralized blockchain technology.
Decentralization held the promise of enfranchising the disenfranchised, banking the unbanked, and those left out of the financial system. It also had the potential of making transactions more efficient, and more secure, and by eliminating layers upon layers of intermediaries, less costly. Eliminating layers of financial intermediaries also reduces fees. Perhaps it had the potential to achieve the status of a General-Purpose Technology (GPT) like the telephone, or printing press- but this is yet to be seen. But there are persistent problems like scalability and throughput (the ability to handle increasing amounts of data and users, and being able to process more transactions without slowing down).
Unfortunately, with the fall of wholly distinct, and centralized crypto exchange, FTX, the world saw crypto’s version of the Lehman Brothers . And while Bitcoin is regulated, decentralized, and in every meaningful sense distinguishable from FTX and its currency, FTT, it was also dragged down slightly by the unfortunate, albeit unjustified association. FTX was the albatross of the crypto world in 2022 but it was not the first or last centralized exchange or currency to fail in 2022, and probably not the last of 2023. There were also many crypto scams, which is less of a reflection on the industry than a mark of how hot it was, before it wasn’t.
So the question remains whether decentralization in the context of blockchain and crypto currencies writ large (and I realize I am painting in broad brushstrokes here and including things that do not belong together necessarily), fulfilled it promise, or ever will. There has been widespread investment in blockchain technology on Wall Street. Whether it winds up banking the unbanked and eliminating layers of financial intermediaries remains though largely to be seen. Perhaps the industry and the technology is still too new to judge one way or the other.
But there is another form of decentralization, which is reaching broad adoption already. Coincident with the collapse of FTX in November of 2022, OpenAI released ChatGPT. This is a gamechanger and it only just got here.
One of the key ways that OpenAI can transform the world is by decentralizing control over AI technologies. AI has been used in the automative industry and financial world for some time. But in the traditional models of AI development, a few large tech companies, Wall Street behemoths, and governments have dominated the field, with vast resources and expertise at their disposal that allow them to do so. We have seen that playbook before. This concentration of power comes with the potential for the handful of entities that wield it, to abuse their control over AI. There are other concerns about AI, well analyzed in Nick Bostrom’s book, SuperIntelligence (Bostrom, Nick. SuperIntelligence; Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 2014). Among these concerns are bias, job loss on a massive scale, loss of privacy, security threats and the rise of unaccountable and all powerful, artificial general intelligence (AGI)-something which has been anticipated as happening in the next twenty years since 1940…
Here is where OpenAI’s approach is different. By developing open-source AI technologies and sharing them with the broader community, OpenAI is democratizing access to AI and empowering individuals and organizations around the world to create and innovate using these technologies. This has the potential to unlock new solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and stubborn challenges, from healthcare to education.
This is a real decentralization and democratization of tools that does not seek to replace the current system like crypto and blockchain do, but to make the existing systems much better. It is this distinction between OpenAI and crypto, that makes OpenAI more interesting. This last distinction may also hold the key to why OpenAI’s form of decentralization winds up achieving GPT status much sooner.
In November of 2022, OpenAI, the research lab research laboratory focused on advancing the field of artificial intelligence (AI) released ChatGPT. OpenAi was founded in 2015 by a group of prominent tech entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk and Sam Altman. Its mission is to create and promote AI technologies that are beneficial to humanity
At the heart of OpenAI’s philosophy is the idea that AI can transform the world in positive ways, but only if it is developed and deployed in a responsible and equitable manner. A general purpose technology with a conscious.
One of the most promising aspects of OpenAI’s work is its focus on creating AI technologies that are explainable, interpretable, and transparent. This is in contrast to many traditional AI systems, which can be opaque and difficult to understand. By prioritizing transparency and explainability, OpenAI is helping to build trust in AI technologies and ensure that they are used in ways that align with stated human values and priorities.
Another way that OpenAI is transforming the world is by promoting collaboration and knowledge-sharing across disciplines and sectors, including the humanities. AI has the potential to impact pretty much every aspect of society, from finance to agriculture. By bringing together experts from diverse backgrounds, including computer science, psychology, economics, and more, OpenAI may help to spark new insights and innovations that could transform entire industries and sectors.
OpenAI is also committed to responsible AI development is helping to address some of the ethical and social concerns that have been raised about AI such as bias and discrimination to the potential use for malicious purposes. There are still risks associated with the rapid development of AI technologies, including the use of sensitive data. But at least OpenAI is taking these risks seriously, and has developed a set of guiding principles that is baked in. This is significant and unique because it is not the norm in the tech space. For example, many tech companies with consumer products that touch even on genetic and medical issues (genetic testing companies), may not have a single bioethicist on board-or even think to do so… (a story for another time).
OpenAI has the potential to transform the world in profound and positive ways because it is putting the promise of AI; extremely powerful tools never before available but to a few, in the hands of people everywhere in the world. This can be used to make industry specific bots to improve business processes and make people more productive. By democratizing access to AI technologies, promoting transparency and collaboration, and prioritizing responsible AI development, OpenAI is empowering individuals and organizations to create and innovate in ways that were previously impossible. It may also empower a young student somewhere in the world, who will produce the cure to cancer-from a place we would not have expected because when enfranchising more people, the world’s collective knowledge is enlarged. While there are challenges and risks associated with the development of AI, OpenAI’s work is a powerful step forward in building a future that is more equitable and human-centered.
And if in the process it eliminates some lawyers (or a great many lawyers), it may be a salutary effect for everyone else. The law is already a costly monopoly- inaccessible to many of the people who need access it to the most. Though it is difficult to foresee AI ever replacing a trial lawyer. This lawyer is bullish.@
R Tamara de Silva