Ownership Issues with ChatBot Technology

Recently, Meta (formerly Facebook) decided to release their chatbot coding as an open source. This means that software developers anywhere can take the code and use it for their own purposes. In essence, this will be hugely beneficial for some developers. Typically, code used to power something similar to a ChatGPT-quality chatbot, requires enormous resources to develop. This is something that smaller companies, or individuals, wouldn’t have the resources to produce.

This decision has many benefits and downsides. On the plus side, enabling all kinds of developers to use, play, and experiment with the code for free can enhance innovation. It means new discoveries can be made faster, and sometimes, more efficiently than if they were just being done by one company. The directions in which the code can be explored are infinite and unrestricted. Whereas if only one company, or a handful of them, developed the technology, there would be less options. As consumers, we would have to accept whatever these few companies developed as the “appropriate” uses.

However, this unrestricted freedom can also be one of the biggest downsides. While offering the code as open source allows for independent and innovative development, we can’t always predict in which direction the code will evolve. For example, somebody could use the code to create an underground app for deepfakes. Or to disseminate misinformation and disinformation broadly. Others may use the code to advance medical techniques, evaluate and discover gender bias in job descriptions, or help people craft resumes. The point is, without any regulation, oversight, or accountability, we can’t know the end result. Nor can we anticipate how far the technology will go or how fast. Once the code is out there, it’s probably unfeasible to rein it back in.

It’s hard to know which path is the right one to take. Innovation and discovery is important. It’s something that happens more easily when people don’t face restrictions. Or when regulations and governance are not slowing down progress. Yet, at the same time, this new technology has the potential to be dangerous. With so much freedom, it will be impossible to control it, if it isn’t already too late.

The Ethics of Big Data

Whenever I hear about people using big data to make decisions, I always wonder about the sources. I want to understand more about the data being used and how it was gathered. More importantly, who supplied the data? Equally important is to have insight into who designed the algorithms analyzing all the data. The reason why it matters is because each one of these points, and several others, can contain bias. And in most cases, they probably do.

For example, consider what we understand to be the most common symptoms of a heart attack. My first guesses would be symptoms such as pain in the left arm, feeling faint or dizzy, sweaty, etc. These symptoms form the basis for assessment and triage protocols. However, they’re also based on symptoms typically documented for men, not women. From what I understand, women generally don’t experience the tell-tale pain in the left arm. When all of this data surrounding heart attack patients supports decision making, shouldn’t we be considering the bias built into that? How does the data account for differences in men and women? How do these differences translate into decisions and protocols?

Another important aspect are the ownership issues of the data. I always feel leery about letting websites or apps track my movements. Over the years, the tracking has been steadily improving. For instance, if I shop online and maybe decide not to purchase things in my cart, I almost always get a reminder email (or several) about it. But shouldn’t this be my private decision whether or not I purchase something online?

Somehow, somewhere, someone is aggregating and analyzing this data about my purchasing habits. However, the gathering, analysis, and outcome of this process is a mystery to me. At any given time, the data collected about me and my online habits is out of my control. Even though this data about me, and others, likely increases profits for companies, I’m not seeing these benefits.

To me the collection and ownership aspects of data are overdue for a long discussion about ethics. Is it ethical for companies to collect and use so much data about us? Is it ethical for companies to use data about our online habits as currency to keep us using their products and services? Protecting our personal data will come at a high price, one that has yet to be established.

Snapchat’s My AI Companion

I first heard about Snapchat’s “My AI” companion on a podcast. Essentially it’s an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot automatically rolled out to everybody’s Snapchat account. According to the Snapchat help pages, My AI “can answer a burning trivia question, offer advice on the perfect gift for your BFF’s birthday, help plan a hiking trip for a long weekend, or suggest what to make for dinner.” It’s based on ChatGPT’s technology. My impression is that it’s there to be an assistant and helpful.

Admittedly, I haven’t tried experimenting with ChatGPT yet, but I felt conflicted hearing about this new roll out. It feels revolutionary and at the same time, poorly thought out. For starters, mostly younger people use Snapchat. It’s possible that younger people using powerful technologies like this may not fully grasp the consequences or dangerous implications yet. It’s equally possible that they will push the technology in new directions, some of which may be undesirable.

As I continued to read through the help pages to learn more, some of my fears felt founded. Woven into the Q&A’s about using My AI are warning statements. Some answers caution users about the quality of the My AI responses. My AI could produce biased, discriminatory, or inflammatory content. It might also produce content that is inaccurate. Snapchat advises users to verify My AI responses.

While I’m not totally dismissing the idea, or inherent usefulness of having an AI chatbot readily available, the amount of effort felt questionable. On the one hand Snapchat is advertising My AI as a way to answer a burning trivia question. Then a few sentences later suggests users verify answers with another source, given that My AI may not always be accurate. So why not go straight to the source the first time?

I also had to wonder about privacy when using My AI. One article I read discussed adding My AI to the chat as another participant. When discussing innocent things like where to meet for dinner, I can see the advantages of including a chatbot in the conversation. However, what if the messaging took a turn towards discussing other kids in the school, how to stalk someone, or be destructive. Would My AI blindly offer suggestions for things like that?

This technology is so big, powerful, and popular, we’ll have to wait to see what happens. Hopefully it won’t be too late to correct.

Tax Time: Tips to Make it Easy

It might seem strange to write about tax time right after it passes. Once taxes are filed and settled, most people push them out of their head until April of the following year. Who could blame them? However, now is the prime time to think about them for next year.

Put simply, while all the challenges and frustrations are still fresh in one’s mind, it’s the best time to be proactive about next year’s filings. While I don’t enjoy preparing my taxes to file in two countries, I’ve learned a few tricks. After going through some rather complicated adjustments, and a month-long stomach ache from the stress a few years ago, I devised a two-part system. My system eliminates delays and stress from searching for what you need.

Step 1: Identify what you need to prepare your taxes.

For some, this may be straightforward and involve only a few documents. For others, such as sole proprietors or Americans living over seas, a bit more may be required. Every year, for example, I need to fill out an FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) for my US taxes. Basically I have to report the maximum balance for each bank account. It’s not hard, but it’s really, really tedious. And I know I need all my bank statements for my tax prep. If you have extra documents like this, create a checklist. Eliminate the guesswork and know what you need for next year.

Step 2: Designate a place to save the documents you need.

This works for paper and electronic records. When I had my own business, I set up a box with a pen and small stapler to collect paper receipts. That way I could label and staple receipts when I dumped them in.

For electronic records, I designate dumping areas. In every email account I have a folder (or label) called “Taxes.” Throughout the year I move anything tax-related to this folder. Or label it as “Taxes” for easy searching later. When I sit down to prepare my taxes, I can find everything I need, even if it takes me time to download. I also maintain a Tax folder on my laptop by year so I can file as I receive documents.

My two-part strategy won’t eliminate all the bad feelings associated with taxes, but it does make the process of filing easier and less stressful.

Making Things Modular

With the pandemic impact lessening, at the moment, I’ve been enjoying some of my most cherished activities. All of a sudden my life is busy in a way it hasn’t been in a couple years. It’s strange how quickly I adapted to some of the changes, such as the hybrid work model.

My commute used to be about three hours a day, five days a week! Now I only commute twice a week but the effort feels more significant than it did when I went everyday. I’m not sure if this is because I fell out of the habit or because I go fewer times the routine is less mechanical, making it seem more onerous.

In addition to weekly commutes, orchestra rehearsals are part of the routine. I recently joined a quintet, though rehearsals are more casual. I’ve been making an effort to exercise more, trying to swim and attend a pilates class once a week. Though I don’t miss the commute, it did keep me more active every day bouncing from one public transit system to another.

With the social restrictions relaxed and the promise of nicer weather coming, I’ve also been able to socialize more. In short, my schedule is getting full again. It’s hard to imagine this is what it was like pre-covid. I need to be mindful to avoid getting too busy. This sudden influx of activities requires some serious organization.

One of my favorite strategies to stay on top of everything is to make things modular. Making things modular allows me to have things prepped so I can quickly “mix and match” them to get ready. For example, I keep my swim bag packed and ready. Going swimming already adds a bit of extra time with changing and showering. I have a small waterproof pouch containing my suit, goggles, cap, swim shoes, shampoo, comb, and lock. It’s in a special bag with my designated swim towel. If I can manage to squeak in a swim, having everything ready to go helps maximize the time by minimizing the effort.

I usually do pilates right before my orchestra rehearsal. Similar to swimming, I use the same strategy to attend two very different activities in the same night.

Whenever I can, I prep in advance. Another favorite tip is packing up dinner leftovers as an office lunch. It’s a win-win. Kitchen clean up combined with meal prep.

Is AI-generated Art, still Art?

The advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) is raising all kinds of new dilemmas and questions in our world. For example, the release of a new track called “Heart on my Sleeve.” AI-generated, it featured the voices of Drake and The Weeknd. Yet, neither of them created it. One of their labels pulled the track immediately. However, hundreds of thousands of people already viewed it.

This brings to mind a few questions. Who has rights to that type of content? Does an artist own his/her voice? And, is it still art? These are important questions to consider when AI can easily replicate one’s voice. Although arguably more relevant for a performer, who makes a living from his/her voice, it’s also important for other types of people. For example, I recently listened to A Promised Land, written and narrated by Barack Obama. It was neat to hear the book read by the author. Currently, I’m listening to Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. This book, however, sounds as though a robot read it. Initially it made the audio difficult to listen to without the intonation, inflection, and emphasis we would get from a human reading.

Then I had a thought that AI could probably replicate Obama’s voice to read any of his other novels. Somebody listening likely wouldn’t be able to tell if Obama the human was reading it, or if it was an AI-generated imitation based on analysis of his other readings and public speeches. In instances like that, would Obama be entitled to royalties, or some form of compensation, for allowing others to replicate the likeness of his voice? And what if it was used to narrate works that weren’t his own?

I must admit, I feel a bit daunted how to manage something like this. How could an artist/performer be able to track and monitor the likeness of their voice across all types of media? How could they trademark the unique characteristics of their voice? Even answering the management and financial aspects doesn’t resolve the fundamental question about whether or not it’s art. Can we say that AI-generated art is still art? How does this change if a human is directing the AI creation or if the AI is generating it all on its own.