Challenges and Opportunities of AI — and the Need for Regulation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more common in everyday life and is significantly changing the way people work. Kentaro Toyama, PhD, is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information, where he studies AI and human-computer interaction. On this episode of Michigan Minds, Toyama discusses how AI is impacting the creative workforce, the growth of generative technology like Chat-GPT and the risk of misuse of new tech. 

Kentaro Toyama on Michigan Minds

“What I study is the impact of digital technology on society. A lot of the work that I do, for example, looks at how digital technology contributes to community development,” Toyama says. “And overall, what I find there is that technology’s impact is to amplify the human forces that are already there. So if those human forces are positive, then technology makes things better. But if the human forces are corrupt or inefficient, then even the best technology doesn’t turn things around.”

In a recent op-ed for The Conversation, Toyama considers the question of how human intelligence and creativity might be valued should machines become smarter and more creative than the brightest people. He notes how technology has affected work  in a previous era, when factory automation started to disrupt manufacturing jobs. In a similar way, Toyama says  he believes AI will probably disrupt creative-class jobs.

“What’s different this time around is that the potential is for AI to basically lead us in a world in which pretty much everything that we think of as work could be done by machine, and in some cases done better by machine than by people.”

Generative AI is rapidly becoming more prevalent in everyday life and work. Toyama recalls a time during his PhD studies where he described having a computer generate text from an image as a “holy grail.” And now, generative AI can not only generate text from an image, but create videos, graphics and various kinds of writing from keywords.

Toyama says  that generative AI technology has advanced significantly in recent years.“There’s some point where suddenly everything clicked for us technically, even though many of the core algorithms that underlie current AI existed decades ago. And I think one of the big questions is how will this affect us? And it’s really the stuff of science fiction, but I think now that it’s become science fact—we’ll have to deal with it,” he says. “I see as many negative potential outcomes as there are positive ones. And I think the question for us as a society is how we manage those negative outcomes.”

Toyama was recently featured on the Conversation Weekly Podcast to talk about how access to ChatGPT-style tech is about to change the world. He cautions that while the hope is that technology will improve people’s lives, there is always a risk of misuse.

“The thing that I would really hope everybody feels is that, again, this is an incredibly powerful technology or range of technologies. Again, I compare them to nuclear power, and that we desperately need regulation. Some of that is beginning to happen, just beginning to happen. But as a public, we should be aware that regulating AI is a priority.”