Thursday, May 25, 2023


Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star


DOWN through the years we’ve gone from public coin operated phone boxes to home phones to clumpy mobile devices to the latest sleek smart phone innovations. Unimaginable inventions and technology only a short time ago, we now have so much to make our lives easier. I’m not sure we’re any happier to be honest, but undoubtedly some of us know how to appreciate a good thing when we find it.

Now, coming at us like a tsunami, is Artificial Intelligence. AI is a catch all phrase for sure but the wonders underneath that umbrella are unparalleled. The beginning was Alexa and Siri, we’ve all got used to them in our homes, answering questions, playing us music and turning on and off the lights.  The latest innovation is a chatbot and, from what I can gather, it’s a programme whereby articles and even spoken word speeches can be produced in mere seconds. You can ask this technology to write you an article on the history of Ireland, reasons why eggs are good for you or why one country should invade another. You can even go so far as to ask it to write it in the style of Shakespeare or Chaucer and it will deliver remarkably efficiently.


‘The worry clearly is in this fast paced world of constant information overload, how can we tell the real from the fake news?’


Voice cloning was demonstrated recently by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law. The gathering’s intention was to discuss the potential dangers of this new technology if left unregulated. He asked the chatbot for a speech to open up proceedings at the hearing. The chatbot duly reeled off said speech and rather impressively by all accounts in the Senator’s voice. However, the Senator was quick to point out that he could have asked for a speech endorsing Russian Leader Putin or asking for Ukraine to surrender its military activity. Had such a speech been played publicly who would have known it was artificially created? How could you tell?

The worry clearly is in this fast paced world of constant information overload, how can we tell the real from the fake news?

A leading scientist in the field of AI, Geoff Hinton says we may see robot soldiers at some stage and suggests that Putin would already be using them were he to have the capability. It may be closer than we think. He feels that only very clever people getting together who know about this stuff will be able to keep some kind of checks on where exactly we’re heading with the advances. However, he offers no guarantees that things will progress totally for the better.

Right now though, the big temptation currently exists for students to use AI to do assignments, or advertisers, poets, journalists and writers generally to resort to this easy path to deliver a piece. A friend of mine received an advertising Voice Over script recently and there was some very questionable English usage in it. Was it created by one of these programmes? However, they are improving all the time and one of the most common ones, ChatGPT has just released a real-time version.

I suppose it all comes down to whether you have any value at all on integrity and where your values lie. By all means people should use new innovations to assist them in day to day life. God knows we all need a helping hand but where is the line where we are simply passing off work as our own?

Of course we have heard the “robots will rule the world” narrative for some time. I can go back to the 90’s when in radio we were being informed of the future elimination of the need for radio DJ’s as a result of a new gadget nicknamed “Robojock”. This involved replacing, say, a late night radio presenter with continuous music tracks programmed to play back to back music for as long as required. Clearly more cost effective, there would be no need for a radio station to pay a DJ when the system would be much handier. You could even programme in jingles and real voices.

What matter that audiences love a real human on the other side of a mic giving actual real-time weather updates and talking to listeners? Yet Robojock has now become the norm.

With the new AI developments there will no doubt be software that will reproduce vocals too without someone prerecording them in real time, but is this where we really want to go as human beings? Surely the public, that’s me and you by the way, have a say in what we will and will not accept?

I’m not being facetious when I say that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some radio station soon unveiled new late night jock “Arty” and no one was any the wiser that it wasn’t actually a real person.

What if you asked the bot “Give me, in a Waterford accent, a presenter playing three in a row from Steely Dan”.

Reply (possible): “Well… here’s three songs from Steely Dan boi!”

Maybe a little too flippant but you get the idea. Arty might well have a future at that.

Whatever about chat show hosts and radio presenters, I think my newsreader colleagues might be the first to be replaced. I hope not.

Sadly though, the AI that is mushrooming about us in 2023 is altogether more serious. I think most reasonable people will not tamper with these capabilities for untoward purposes, but we’ve all seen the James Bond movies. It only takes one warped megalomaniac to use science for his own twisted ends. Governments now have massive responsibilities to keep tabs on the growth of Artificial Intelligence. It’s the fact that private companies appear to be leading the charge in this territory that might be alarming.

It’s certainly not all bad. Technology is always what we make it and it has to be seen as incredibly exciting too. It just comes down to how we utilise the wonders we uncover.

Geoff Hinton has poured cold water over suggestions that putting a freeze on advancing A1 for a period until we get a better grip on its workings might be an idea. He calls it naïve. It seems it’s a big cyber rollercoaster and we’re all on it whether we like it or not.

In the meantime, I’m wondering if there’s a Lab somewhere available for some trials on AI Hurlers… Just kidding!


By Timmy Ryan

Broadcaster and Liquorist

By Timmy Ryan
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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