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The Promethean challenge in the digital age

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“When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters – one represents danger and one represents opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy

Prometheus was a titan known for his intelligence and foresight. Despite Zeus’s disapproval, Prometheus stole fire from the sun for the humans after seeing them struggling to survive. He is often credited for giving humanity the gift of fire, which not only brought warmth and protection to humans, but also fueled human innovation. With humanity’s power of knowledge, the ability to create and destroy was now in human hands. 

Fast forward to the 20th century, echoes of Prometheus’ gift can be heard through the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Often called the “father of the atomic bomb,” Oppenheimer was the director of the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory during WWII. This laboratory was specially built to design a nuclear weapon. Oppenheimer understood the potential of the new “fire” that he was creating; however, he still decided to take upon the role of gifting it humanity. Eventually, Oppenheimer, just like Prometheus, delivered the two-sided gift to humanity. This unlocked the duality of the promise of immense energy and the threat of unimaginable destruction.

Today, we can hear another echo of Prometheus’ gift. As artificial intelligence technology is developing at an unprecedented rate, its growing presence is hard to ignore for anyone living in the modern world. AI can revolutionize every corner of human life, bringing solutions to pressing issues. Some solutions that AI can offer humanity include its ability to accurately diagnose diseases, optimize travel routes, and create efficient schedules. 

On the other hand, AI poses ethical dilemmas about rightful use. It brings privacy concerns as it collects and analyzes large amounts of personal data. There can also be potential job losses as workers see themselves being replaced by AI that is more efficient. Weaponization of AI is another danger that can possibly lead to catastrophe. AI is the new modern “gift of fire” that humanity has received.

Stories of Prometheus and Oppenheimer are more relevant right now than ever as people attempt to tame this new “fire.” These stories show both sides of the pursuit of knowledge and ethical responsibility. It is now humanity’s job to find the balance between the two sides. The fire has already spread too far and wide for water to extinguish it. Akin to how farmers cut the crops on the field to isolate the fire, regulators must establish ethical frameworks to ensure that AI benefits humanity while still mitigating its risks. To do this, humans first need to study AI’s potential impact on society and spread awareness about its potential detrimental effects. 

An open letter by Future of Life Institute expresses the need to combat the potential harms and risks of AI, describing AI as becoming “out of control” and having “profound risks.” This letter was signed by Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and 24,000 others to agree to stall the development of the next generative pre-trained transformer (GPT).

Just like Prometheus’ fire and Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb, AI is another double-edged sword born through innovation. The open letter is just one step of many that we need to take preventive measures against the detrimental side of AI. Although AI can be a panacea to society’s problems, it can quickly become the problem itself.

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About the Contributor
Eric Hyunseung Cho, Copy Editor
Eric is a junior reporter for Tiger Times. He has a voracious appetite for more than just food. His love for thinking about mathematics and space is matched only by his passion for playing the French horn and swimming. Don't hesitate to engage him in conversations ranging from the latest hot takes in current news to theoretical musings on the universe.

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