Though AI feels like new and shiny technology, Tim Allen said he first encountered it in 1986 at the University of Pennsylvania in the form of ELIZA, an early chatbot.
“It’s been evolving in a slow and steady line since then, it’s not like suddenly whoa, all this came,” he said at a lunch roundtable discussion before the Technical.ly Developers Conference during Philly Tech Week 2023 presented by Comcast. “It’s just currently in everybody’s frontal lobe right now.”
Allen, principal engineer at The Wharton School, was among other technologists discussing AI’s presence over the last six months. During the discussion, we heard opinions about this unique moment for technology and how AI might effect the job market.
To add to his initial sentiment, Allen said that what’s changed recently is access and media attention to the technology. He said that it is important to acknowledge the decades-long evolution of AI when talking about the current moment.
Martin Snyder, VP of engineering at Pinnacle 21, said that most people have come into contact with AI more than they realize. He called out the use of bots on Reddit and Twitter as an example, and said though this technology has been used for a while, its quality has improved in recent years. It’s now harder to tell what is a bot and what isn’t, he said.
Andrew Gamino-Cheong, CTO and cofounder at DC-based AI accountability startup Trustible, echoed them, saying that the main thing that has changed about AI has been the accessibility of it. With growing media attention and easier access, more and more people and companies have integrated AI into their work. But some might not completely realize the risks — “with great power comes great responsibility,” Gamino-Cheong said.
Previously, companies recognized how risky AI was and decided they didn’t want to wade into usage, but now that it’s everywhere, companies feel pressured to integrate it, the CTO said. For example, Google has had access to this tech for a long time, but didn’t roll it out until they saw Microsoft using it and felt it needed to compete.
“That’s actually one of the scariest parts and it’s happening in a sense of the global scale as well,” Gamino-Cheong said. “Now the US is doing it, now China is like, if the US is doing this, even though it’s against our better judgment, we got to do this as well. So, nobody is really able to stop that escalation.”
Tariq Hook, cofounder of Wilmington-based tech education organization Code Differently, said that with all new technology, there is a “bell curve” with learning how to use it and how well it is integrated into our daily lives. Hook said that eventually, he predicts skills like prompt engineering will be as common as presentation skills. As AI becomes more accessible, everyone will need to know prompt engineering so they can effectively talk to AI and correct its mistakes, he said.
“You can’t predict what [ChatGPT] is going to give right? But what you can do, is you can take iterative processes, iterative prompts to kind of build up a situation where you might get what you’re looking for, and then you still gotta shift through the data,” he said. “That particular skill set is going to be like a really good Googler, it’s going to be a really good prompter.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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