Lifesaver or job killer? Why AI tools like ChatGPT are so polarizing.


A growing chorus of doomsayers, meanwhile, agrees AI is poised to revolutionize life — but for the worse. It is absorbing and reflecting society’s worst biases, threatening the livelihoods of artists and white-collar workers, and perpetuating scams and disinformation, they say.

The latest wave of AI has the tech industry and its critics in a frenzy. So-called generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, Replika and Stable Diffusion, which use specially trained software to create humanlike text, images, voices and videos, seem to be rapidly blurring the lines between human and machine, truth and fiction.

As sectors ranging from education to health care to insurance to marketing consider how AI might reshape their businesses, a crescendo of hype has given rise to wild hopes and desperate fears. Fueling both is the sense that machines are getting too smart, too fast — and could someday slip beyond our control. “What nukes are to the physical world,” tech ethicist Tristan Harris recently proclaimed, “AI is to everything else.”

The benefits and dark sides are real, experts say. But in the short term, the promise and perils of generative AI may be more modest than the headlines make them seem.

“The combination of fascination and fear, or euphoria and alarm, is something that has greeted every new technological wave since the first all-digital computer,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor of history at the University of Washington. As with past technological shifts, she added, today’s AI models could automate certain everyday tasks, obviate some types of jobs, solve some problems and exacerbate others, but “it isn’t going to be the singular force that changes everything.”