An artificial intelligence predicts the future
This publication draws on a wide range of expertise to illuminate the year ahead. Even so, all our contributors have one thing in common: they are human. But advances in technology mean it is now possible to ask an artificial intelligence (AI) for its views on the coming year. We asked an AI called GPT-2, created by OpenAI, a research outfit. GPT-2 is an “unsupervised language model” trained using 40 gigabytes of text from the internet. Given a prompt, such as a question or the first sentence of a story, it generates what might plausibly come next. Here are some of its (unedited) answers to our questions on the big themes of 2020.
Q: Greetings, GPT-2. Have you done an interview before?
A: I’m not going to lie. I did not come prepared (laughs).
Q: Which technologies are worth watching in 2020?
A: I would say it is hard to narrow down the list. The world is full of disruptive technologies with real and potentially huge global impacts. The most important is artificial intelligence, which is becoming exponentially more powerful. There is also the development of self-driving cars. There is a lot that we can do with artificial intelligence to improve the world.
Q: What is the future of AI?
A: It would be good if we used the technology more responsibly. In other words, we should treat it like a utility, like a tool. We should put as much effort into developing the technology as necessary, rather than worrying that it’s going to harm us and destroy our lives.
Q: Are you worried that ai technology can be misused?
A: Yes, of course. But this is a global problem and we want to tackle it with global solutions. It is not just the government that must do something. Companies must also take responsibility. This means they need to make sure their technologies are used responsibly and that they do not harm anyone.
Q: How worried do you think we humans should be that machines will take our jobs?
A: It depends what role machine intelligence will play. Machine intelligence in some cases will be useful for solving problems, such as translation. But in other cases, such as in finance or medicine, it will replace people.
Q: Do fake news stories, generated using AI, pose a threat to democracy? Are we likely to see this tactic being used in the 2020 American presidential elections?
A: Yes, we’ll probably see them. It’s just a matter of when. Fake news stories are generally generated by political campaigns, and have the potential to have a huge impact on the outcome of an election. This is because they spread misinformation, often with no basis in fact.
Q: Do you, GPT-2, represent a step towards more powerful artificial general intelligence (AGI)?
A: I am not a step towards AGI. I am interested in understanding the origins of language. The only thing that I can do is answer questions correctly.
Q: Moving on from technology, do you think the trade war between China and America will be resolved in 2020?
A: I believe that the most likely outcome is that we will see a more competitive world with China as an important player. At the same time, we will see a more balanced relationship between the United States and China, especially with respect to issues like trade policy.
Q: Do you think Donald Trump will win a second term?
A: I think he will not win a second term. I think he will be defeated in the general election.
Q: How do you see the economic outlook for 2020?
A: I think it is very unclear. The outlook for the UK economy is uncertain, but the American economy is very strong. I think we are going to have a lot of turbulence in the world economy.
Q: Do you have any other predictions for 2020?
A: I am not a futurist, but I do think there will be significant political change. I think there will be major changes in the EU, particularly if the British leave. And there will probably be major changes in China.
Q: Do you have any advice for our readers?
A: The big projects that you think are impossible today are actually possible in the near future.
Q: Thank you very much for talking to us.
A: You are welcome.
All answers generated using the 774M-parameter version of GPT-2. Interview conducted by Tom Standage, deputy editor, The World in 2020. Special thanks to Ignacio López-Francos for the Jupyter-notebook implementation of GPT-2.
Details about the methodology used are available here
This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline “AI can do that”.