From Hype to Backlash: Is Public Opinion on AI Shifting?

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
From Hype to Backlash: Is Public Opinion on AI Shifting?
Evan Xie

Interest online around new AI companies, concepts and pitches remains as frothy as ever. A widely-shared thread over the weekend by Silicon Valley computer scientist Dr. Patrik Desai instructs readers to begin recording their elders, as he predicts (with 100% certainty!) that we’ll be able to map and preserve human consciousness “by the end of the year.” The tweets have over 10 million views in just three days. A new piece from the MIT Technology Review touts the ways AI apps will aid historians in understanding societies of the past. Just the other day, a Kuwait-based media company introduced an entirely-virtual news anchor named “Fedha.”


But in the aftermath of a much-discussed open letter in which some industry insiders suggested a pause on AI development, and as the Biden Administration considers potential new regulations around AI research, it appears that we’ve entered something of a backlash moment. Every new, excited thread extolling the futuristic wonders of AI image generators and chatbots is now accompanied by a dire warning about the dangerous potential consequences for the technology, or at least an acknowledgment that it’s not yet delivering on its full promise.

The Government Responds to Recent Developments in AI

To be clear, any actual movement by the federal government on AI regulation remains a good way off. President Biden’s Commerce Department this week put out a formal request for comments on potential new accountability measures, specifically around the question of whether new AI models should require certification before being released to the public. Commerce Dept. official Alan Davidson told the Wall Street Journal that the government’s chief concern was putting “guardrails in place to make sure [AI tools] are being used responsibly.” The comment-fielding period will last for 60 days, after which the agency will publish its advice to lawmakers about how to approach AI. Then and only then will lawmakers begin debating specific policies or approaches.

Biden’s Justice Department is also reportedly monitoring competition in the AI sector, while the Federal Trade Commission has also cautioned tech companies about making “false or unsubstantiated claims” about their AI products. Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet told WSJ that his main concerns centered around children’s safety, specifically mentioning reports about chatbots giving troubling or dangerous advice to users posing as children. When President Biden was asked by a reporter at the White House last we whether or not he thinks AI is dangerous, he responded “It remains to be seen. It could be.”

Chinese regulators are also mulling over new rules around AI development this week, following the release of chatbots and apps by large tech firms Baidu and Alibaba. China’s ruling party has already embraced AI for their own purposes, of course, using the technology for oversight and surveillance. The Atlantic reports that Chinese president Xi Jinping aims to use AI applications to create “an all-seeing digital system of social control.”

But beyond long-percolating actions at the highest levels of power, there’s also been a wider-scale, subtle but still noticeable shift in sentiment around some of these recent AI developments.

Mainstreaming of AI Raises More Employment Concerns

In some ways, these are the same old concerns that have been spoke about in tech circles for years going more mainstream. A recent editorial in USA Today, for example, picks up on the concerns about potential misuse of generative AI images to influence elections or steer public opinion, arguing that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes impossible to distinguish between AI-generated images and the real thing.

A report in today’s Washington Post centers on the sudden appearance of “fake pornography” generated by AI apps like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, including a fictional woman named “Claudia” who is selling “nude photos” via direct message to users on Reddit. Impressive though the technology itself may be, the Post piece highlights a number of potential downsides. Though some users no doubt realize what they’re purchasing, others are being fooled into believing that Claudia is an actual human selling real photographs. Additionally, similar techniques could, of course, be employed to make artificial pornographic images that resemble real women, in a cutting-edge new form of sexual harassment.

Then, of course, there’s the potential competition for real workers in the adult industry, who could (at least theoretically) be put out of work by AI models or directors. OnlyFans model Zoey Sterling told the Post that she’s not concerned about being replaced by AI yet, but some digital rivals have already started appearing on the scene.

In another viral story about AI taking human jobs away, Rest of World reports that AI-produced artwork is already impacting the Chinese gaming industry. One freelance illustrator told the publication that nearly all of her gaming work has dried up, and she’s more frequently employed now to tweak or clean up AI-generated imagery than create original artwork herself, at a tenth of her previous pay rate. Another Chinese game studio told the site that five of their 15 character design-focused illustrators have been laid off so far this year.

Over in Vox, reporter Sigal Samuel worries that – over a long enough timeline – chatbots like ChatGPT could more generally homogenize our world and flatten out human creativity. Already, a significant amount of online text is now composed by chatbots. As future chatbots are trained using published content from the internet, this means that – in the near future – robots will learn how to write from other robots. Could this mean the permanent end of original thought, as we continually rewrite, rearrange, and recompile ideas that were already published in the past?

Geopolitical Concerns Around AI Continue to Grow

Only if humanity survives for long enough! An item this week from Foreign Policy notes that AI could completely alter geopolitics and warfare, and features a number of chilling predictions about the use of dystopian tech like automated drones, AI-driven software that helps leaders make strategic and tactical decisions, and even AI upgrades that make existing weapons systems more potent and powerful. A February report by the Arms Control Association warns that AI could potentially expand the capability of existing weapons like hypersonic missiles to the point of “blurring the distinction between a conventional and nuclear attack.”

Finally, in an acknowledgment about the potential AI consequence that’s always on everyone’s mind, we recently witnessed the debut of ChaosGPT, an experimental open-source attempt to encourage OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 to lay out a plan for global domination. After removing the OpenAI guardrails that prohibit these specific lines of inquiry, the ChaosGPT team worked with ChatGPT-4 on an extensive plan for humanity’s destruction, which involved both generating support for its plans on social media and acquiring nuclear weapons. Though ChaosGPT had a number of interesting ideas, such as coordinating with other GPT systems to forward its goal, the program ultimately didn’t manage to actually devise a workable plan to take over the planet and kill all the humans. Oh well, next time.

🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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