In the face of pain there are no heroes

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There have been some good impressionists, not of the painting genre, over the decades. Worth name-checking a few right here, right now. Who could forget Mike Yarwood, probably where modern satirical impressionism went mainstream. Then came the talented voices behind those Spitting Image foam puppets such as Alistair McGowan, Rory Bremner, John Culshaw, Steve Coogan, Kate Robbins and the great John Sessions whose fine writing and innate skills took this genre into another league. Yarwood was probably my favourite. He looked like he’d be a lot of fun to pull a cracker with at the family Christmas table. Funny old Uncle Mike, he’s a scream. Quite possibly not as funny as the later folk who were probably sharper and wittier. Still, everyone needs a GOAT. He’s mine and you will have yours.

Where are we going with all this?

Well, seamlessly on to another AI article, obviously. My apologies, it’s not an obsession, really it isn’t, but rather a sign of the times and lack of clear regulation and governmental debate that drives me to highlight just how unready the world is for AI. Remember the main connection between AI and IP rights is ownership. With ownership usually comes a level of responsibility and accountability in return for exploitation rights. Currently such concepts are as clear as chicken chowder.

No sooner does the laptop close on an AI article and another set of facts passes by that can’t be ignored. This one is a corker, that I promise.

Humans can be clever too

I was taught the old adage of the Australian, William George Plunkett: “Three things come not back.

  • The spent arrow (appears to date the saying – but it was mid-20thcentury so don’t be deceived)
  • A lost opportunity (how wise)
  • The spoken word” (oh yeah – that’s so true)

For years I could only remember the spent arrow bit. My bad but I don’t think I was alone, and I was only a kid. There are variants with some believing ‘time’ should be added to the list but, hey, it’s a pretty good saying as it is, so, let’s not go there just now because it’s ‘the spoken word’ that’s the protagonist in this story. What if, and I jest not, the spoken word is an AI generated voice impression of your boss and filled with vile racist hate? Well, this just happened a few months ago, only in America – for now.

Dead Ringers  

I’m tempted to say you really couldn’t make this up but, of course, that’s exactly what happened when a disgruntled High School Physical Education and Athletics Director under investigation for financial impropriety, used AI to generate a racist rant alleged to have been spoken by the school head. A tale of hostile impersonation. It was particularly unpleasant and focused on black students and some Jewish individuals. The result was chaos.

The school principal, Eric Eiswert, had to take a leave of absence whilst the rant was investigated and the perpetrator, Dazhon Darien was eventually arrested for various legal breaches but, crucially, not AI impersonation as it wasn’t illegal in the context of this case. The current protective laws on this matter being entirely inadequate. Your target needs to be a politician or some such. Watch out Alex Baldwin, the FBI would like a word with you for lampooning The Donald.

And that is the point. AI is unfolding all around us so fast we are as a society, it increasingly appears, ill-equipped to deal with these incidents of criminality as we stare dewy-eyed at all the ‘good’ it will bring us. The grass beneath our feet is long and getting longer.

Eiswert suffered abuse on social media. Unpleasant but manageable. What if he was shot dead? He’s still not back at school so now the kids are suffering as the school drifts rudderless.

It’s this next bit that makes me shudder. During the forensic investigation of the recording one expert picks apart the faults and lack of change in voice inflection as a tell-tale sign the tape was AI generated in part, but Darien had the presence of mind and the basic AI toolkit to add background noise for authenticity. Then the expert chillingly added, “…what if he’d done a better job?”

Implying, this episode was amateur hour. And yet is still took weeks to investigate and clear Eiswert.

Scary stuff. Eiswert’s career could have been toast, it might still be if this incident has got to him mentally, poor man.

Lessons learned?

So, we have several problems at once. The ready availability of such AI tools for amateurs to fiddle about with on home PC’s, the careless groupthink social media pile-on that typically follows publication, the lack of law and regulation to deal effectively with AI abuse/impersonation and lack of ownership and accountability within big tech when their fancy gadgets are, evidently, misused by rogues. Like this isn’t going to happen again many times over. Spare us the wringing hands routine. For that is what it is – a routine – and not a comedic one.

Akin to a gun manufacturer saying, ‘I just make the guns I don’t load them or point them at people’. But you know that’s what they will and could be used for, and you also know some people will die.

Nothing to see here

The NRA (National Rifle Association) is arguably the most powerful lobbying force in the US now that tobacco producers have finally fallen on their sword (it took a while, millions of deaths, and much misery), may it be overtaken at some point by those responsible for introducing AI tools to the masses?  The big tech pension investment darlings of the world’s key share price indices. Another evil with yet more spin and spume beckons. Brand and IP protection – but in a bad way.

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful for societal progress but, come on, AI is not all a force for good. Wake up. It can and will, regularly, fall into malign hands. Eiswert is an innocent and now, quite possibly, broken man. Spare him a thought as your computer designs you a new kitchen by scraping your browser history without your consent and Alexa welcomes you home with a new song…it thinks you might like.

Is it clever or so harmful…

Exodus 7:19; “…there shall be blood throughout all the land…”.

Now is the time for debate. Ordinary people are getting hurt.

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited  
+44 (0) 780 145 9940


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