Don’t worry, AI is going to take over your life whether or not you asked for it…or even know it’s there.

Well, OK. Worry.

The process has been underway for years, especially if you broaden your definition of AI to include any machine that possesses even a smackerel of intelligence and thereby gets something done.

Such AI has been showing up in our lives since the first clocks proved they could tell time better than someone staring at the position of the sun in the sky.

Though inventions like the Industrial Revolution’s spinning jenny captured headlines (mostly because some of the workers they displaced chose smashing them over non-extant unemployment pay), most AI arrives unidentified and unannounced.

The thermostat is intelligent enough to control your heating and cooling. Your anti-lock brakes can slow your car and code runs in the background that does math to keep your bank account current. AI runs robots on factory assembly lines, in airplane cockpits, and gives voice and a simulacra of personality to digital personal assistants in our pockets and on our countertops.

Nobody calls out the AI in these devices, at least not most of the time. They’re simply better machines, and we get to know them through the convenience and benefits they provide. Or, in the case of the AI transforming manufacturing and business operations, the profits they make for us.

This centuries-old process has lulled us into tacit acceptance of AI.

It has confused “experts” to mistakenly believe that the process is unstoppable and, since it hasn’t killed us outright yet, inherently good. It has distracted and biased the media to cover it as either an economic miracle or existential threat.

And it has led the developers of the latest generation of AI to think that they can just add it to our lives without making much of a fuss.

It’s getting built into everyday products, according to this recent op-ed from Ars Technica. Here’s a story from Built In that notes 56 products or services that use some form of generative AI. This is another story with a long list of examples.

Again, it’s no revelation that AI is buried in machines; rather, the news is that today’s AI is more powerful, more adaptable, and more unpredictable than the “intelligence” of a bending metal strip that told early thermostats when to get to work.

And, just like those earlier iterations of AI, today’s devices won’t work, or won’t work as well, without it.

This renders moot any debate over the wisdom or desirability of embracing AI in our lives. It’s already here, only nobody bothered to tell us about it.

Instead, most media coverage promotes the technofantastic gibberish of AI advocates touting the powers of the inventions that they hope will make them rich (if they don’t annihilate us, that is). Governments have been tricked into serving the interests of the AI lobby by creating regulations that will somehow protect us from the unsavory effects of more powerful, adaptable, and unpredictable outcomes.

Where are we in this process? Unwitting users and recipients of whatever benefits or ills that may befall us from using a technology we don’t understand and didn’t ask for.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

What if we talked about AI as an ingredient or activity?

Imagine a disclosure on every product that specified not only whether or not it used AI, but what percentage of its function relied on it. Like food or other products we use in our homes, the supply chain that delivered that AI could be revealed on the manufacturer’s website: where were the LLM models acquired, how much electricity was used, what the company did to ensure the safety of that development and deployment.

Detailed disclosure would create opportunities for companies to market various versions of their products that used less or more AI (imagine “lite” AI models at different price points).

Companies could be required to report on the economic effects of that AI use, too, by specifying how many jobs were switched from people to AI in the making of the product, along with other economic impacts. These metrics could provide the basis for valuing and ranking companies based on their exposure to AI (or avoidance thereof). Investors could make their decisions accordingly.

Such a perspective would force us to come to terms with assessing and putting numbers to the effects of AI use, both risks and rewards. And it would ensure that those assessments were available to all of us.

The saying is that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and making AI ingredients and activities more apparent and understandable would let us debate them more actively and thoughtfully.

Otherwise, AI will continue to find its way into the darkened rooms our our lives, unseen and unaddressed until we turn on the lights and realize it’s too late to stop the infestation.

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