Redefining the Impact of AI: Shifting Focus to Real-World Harms

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made significant strides in recent years, revolutionizing our lives with its capabilities. While discussions about the potential existential threats posed by AI have garnered attention, the true concern lies in the immediate and tangible harm AI technologies are already causing. It’s time to redirect our focus from hyperbolic threats to the real-world dangers that AI presents.

Unmasking the Risks
Rather than getting caught up in sensationalist narratives, we must acknowledge and tackle the actual harms that AI technologies are inflicting today. From wrongful arrests and the expansion of surveillance networks to the proliferation of deep-fake pornography, these are not hypothetical scenarios – they are the consequences of existing AI tools. Discriminatory practices in housing, criminal justice, and healthcare, as well as the spread of hate speech and misinformation, highlight the pressing issues tied to AI’s present impact.

Dismantling the Hype
Many AI companies often prioritize grandiose stories instead of addressing tangible harms when discussing the risks associated with AI. The recent statement from the Center for AI Safety, supported by industry leaders, promoting the idea of AI-driven extinction has raised concerns about misplaced priorities. Focusing on “existential risk” deflects attention from the urgent need to confront the actual harms that are already emerging.

Defining AI Clearly
The term “AI” has become a vague catch-all, encompassing various meanings and adding complexity to meaningful discussions. Today, text synthesis models like ChatGPT dominate the AI landscape. Although these models can generate coherent text, they lack comprehension and reasoning abilities, resembling advanced chatbots rather than genuine intelligent entities.

The Synthetic Text Predicament
While text synthesis models can produce convincing text, their lack of true understanding makes their outputs potentially misleading and harmful. The proliferation of synthetic text exacerbates the spread of misinformation and amplifies societal biases present in their training data. Distinguishing synthetic text from credible information sources becomes increasingly challenging as synthetic text becomes more widespread.

AI: Solution or Detriment?
Text synthesis technology is often hailed as a solution to various societal gaps, such as education and healthcare. However, the reality differs from the hype. The technology often exploits the work of artists and authors without proper compensation, and labeling data for AI training relies on underpaid gig workers subjected to harsh conditions. Moreover, the pursuit of automation results in job losses and precarious employment, especially in industries like entertainment.

Embracing Science-Driven Policy
Effective AI policy must be grounded in solid research and a genuine concern for societal welfare. Unfortunately, many AI publications stem from corporate or industry-funded sources, leading to questionable research practices. It is crucial to shift the focus towards research that investigates the actual harms perpetuated by AI systems, including the accumulation of data and computing power, environmental costs of AI training, and exacerbation of social inequalities.

A Call for Genuine Research
Policymakers must prioritize rigorous research that examines the harms and risks of AI, as well as the consequences of delegating authority to automated systems. This research should encompass social science analysis and theory-building, cultivating a deeper understanding of AI’s societal impacts. Policies informed by such research will ensure that the focus remains on addressing the real-world issues that marginalized communities face due to AI technologies.

As AI continues to shape our world, it is vital to shift our attention from exaggerated threats to the immediate harm caused by these technologies. Wrongful arrests, algorithmic discrimination, and the spread of hate speech are among the serious consequences of AI tools today. By focusing on grounded science and thorough research, policymakers can effectively address these pressing issues and ensure that AI technologies benefit society without causing undue harm.


Q: What are the real harms caused by AI technologies today?
A: The harms caused by AI technologies today include wrongful arrests, algorithmic discrimination, the spread of hate speech, and the proliferation of deep-fake pornography.

Q: Why should we focus on real-world harms instead of sensationalist threats?
A: Focusing on real-world harms allows us to address the immediate consequences of AI technologies and make tangible improvements, rather than getting caught up in speculative or exaggerated concerns.

Q: How does synthetic text contribute to the spread of misinformation?
A: Synthetic text produced by AI lacks true understanding, which can lead to misleading and harmful information. This exacerbates existing biases and prejudices, amplifying the spread of misinformation.

Q: How can AI technologies be both a solution and a detriment?
A: While AI technologies have the potential to address societal gaps, such as education and healthcare, they can also exploit content creators, lead to job losses, and contribute to precarious employment.

Q: Why is it important to have science-driven AI policy?
A: Science-driven AI policy ensures that decisions and regulations are based on solid research and prioritizes the welfare of society, rather than being driven solely by corporate or industry interests.