By Maggie Harrison
Last weekend, comedian and YouTuber Adam Conover took to YouTube to publish a scathing 25-minute-long video essay addressing the ongoing AI gold rush.
And honestly? It goes pretty hard.
“Tech companies are suddenly promising to use AI to revolutionize everything from computer programming to customer service to therapy,” Conover said in the video. “Yeah, that’s right. In a couple years, your insurance company’s AI billing department will deny your claim to see your health plan’s AI therapist.”
It’s a bone-chilling thought, but not exactly a far-fetched one, either. There’s a wild amount of money being thrown into the AI pot, and industries ranging from insurance to therapy are hurrying to integrate the tech into everything they possibly can, from widgets to workflows.
And buzz, of course, begets buzz — especially when those pushing the tech aren’t just promising that it’ll change the world, but that it could possibly destroy it, too.
“All of this,” Conover said, referring to this frenzied and sometimes fear-inducing hype, “has gotten people worried that a super-intelligent AI is right around the corner, that the robots are gonna take over.”
“Well, guess what? It’s all bullshit,” he added. “That fear is a tech bro fantasy, designed to distract you from the real risk of AI: that a bunch of dumb companies are lying about what their broken tech can do so they can trick you into using a worse version of things we already have, all while stealing the work of real people to do it.”
Conover does admit that he believes predictive chatbots like ChatGPT are just glorified autocorrect machines, a sweeping conclusion not everyone will agree on.
But whether you agree with Conover that chatbots are basically just typewriter monkeys, or find yourself on the other side of the spectrum, believing that humanity will eventually fall while superhuman AIs take over the world, the hype cycle itself is real either way. After all, even companies with no discernable product are raising millions simply by whispering the word “AI.”
And where there’s a hype cycle, everyone — regardless of actual substance — wants in, a frenzy that has the power to transform terms like “AI” into little more than investor-hungry marketing language, according to the comedian.
“Artificial intelligence is a real field of computer science that’s been studied for decades, and in recent years, it’s made major strides,” Conover said in the video. “But I’m not talking about that kind of AI. I’m talking about the marketing term AI that tech companies are using to hype up their barely functional products, all so they can jack up their stock price.”
“See, tech companies are powered by hype. It’s not enough to be profitable,” he added. “No, in tech, you have to be able to convince investors that you have cutting-edge disruptive technology that will let you dominate an entire industry.”
Conover’s essay covers a lot of ground, from Tesla’s Autopilot to Microsoft’s Bing Chat and more. But again, regardless of whether you generally agree with his AI pessimism or consider yourself an AI optimist, the fact remains: it’s still a gold rush, which almost always comes with negative side effects — for the public and potentially for the industry itself.
Experts have already rung the alarm bells. Françios Chollet, one of the world’s most respected deep learning researchers, has notably expressed concern over what a largely-unfounded hype bubble might ultimately mean for the field of AI.
And while some folks out there may have some real gold on their hands, a lot of companies are arguably just slapping some gold paint on pretty basic, less-than-Earth-shifting tech.
In short, whether you’re an AI pessimist, optimist, or somewhere in between, it’s a good time to be wary of what exactly is being marketed to you, and how groundbreaking it actually is — or if it’s just a half-baked cash grab.