Talking About AI with Confidence

Category Artificial Intelligence

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This article is offering tips on how to talk about AI with confidence based upon the experience of some of the best AI journalists in the business. These tips include understanding that AI can be a collection of different models doing different things, focusing on the actual rather than the what-ifs, being sceptical and cynical, and understanding that language models are creative tools and not search engines.

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Everyone is talking about AI, it seems. But if you feel overwhelmed or uncertain about what the hell people are talking about, don’t worry. I’ve got you. I asked some of the best AI journalists in the business to share their top tips on how to talk about AI with confidence. My colleagues and I spend our days obsessing over the tech, listening to AI folks and then translating what they say into clear, relatable language with important context. I’d say we know a thing or two about what we’re talking about. "The tech industry is not great at explaining itself clearly, despite insisting that large language models will change the world. If you’re struggling, you aren’t alone," says Nitasha Tiku, the Washington Post’s tech culture reporter. It doesn’t help that conversations about AI are littered with jargon, she adds. "Hallucination" is a fancy way of saying an AI system makes things up. And "prompt engineers" are just people who know how to talk to the AI to get what they want.

AI can be a collection of different models doing different things

And however you talk about AI, some people will grumble. "It sometimes feels like the world of AI has splintered into fandoms with everyone talking past each other, clinging to pet definitions and beliefs," says Will Douglas Heaven, MIT Technology Review’s senior editor for AI. "Figure out what AI means to you, and stick to it." .

"AI" is often treated as one thing in public discourse, but AI is really a collection of a hundred different things," says Karen Hao, the Wall Street Journal’s China tech and society reporter (and the creator of The Algorithm!). Talking about "AI" as a singular thing obscures the reality of the tech, says Billy Perrigo, a staff reporter at Time.

AI is often associated with a risk and potential for the future

"There are different models that can do different things, that will respond differently to the same prompts, and that each have their own biases, too," he says.

3. Keep it real .

"The two most important questions for new AI products and tools are simply: What does it do and how does it do it?" says James Vincent, senior editor at The Verge.

There is a trend in the AI community right now to talk about the long-term risks and potential of AI. It’s easy to be distracted by hypothetical scenarios and imagine what the technology could possibly do in the future, but discussions about AI are usually better served by being pragmatic and focusing on the actual, not the what-ifs, Vincent adds.

AI is often overstated by the tech sector

The tech sector also has a tendency to overstate the capabilities of their products. "Be skeptical; be cynical," says Heaven. This is especially important when talking about AGI, or artificial general intelligence, which is typically used to mean software that is as smart as a person. (Whatever that means in itself.) .

"If something sounds like bad science fiction, maybe it is," he adds.

4. Adjust your expectations .

AI chatbots often 'hallucinate' or make up things

Language models that power AI chatbots such as ChatGPT often "hallucinate," or make things up. This can be annoying and surprising to people, but it’s an inherent part of how they work, says Madhumita Murgia, artificial-intelligence editor at the Financial Times.

It’s important to remember that language models aren’t search engines that are built to find and give the "right" answers, she adds, but rather they are creative tools, which will generate texts.

Many conversations about AI are filled with jargon

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