Professor Carlo Lipizzi Talks Societal Impacts of AI in First Book

Artificial Intelligence is no longer a futuristic, foreboding technology spookily depicted in literature and film. Technological advances have thrust AI into daily conversation and placed it on the forefront of pertinent societal issues in the U.S. and worldwide.

Like many topics, AI has also become a polarizing issue. It is derided by some as a security threat and means to plagiarism, theft and human job loss. Simultaneously, its powers offer hope for rapid advances in several industries, with health care chief among them.

The truth, of course, is more nuanced. Fortunately, Stevens professor Carlo Lipizzi will provide that balance when his first book is published in April 2024, titled “Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.”

Lipizzi, an expert in AI, machine learning and natural language processing, doesn’t attempt to predict the future in his book, but rather estimate AI’s impact on it based on his work in the field that began in 1986 in his native Rome. The aims to present potential future scenarios and allow readers to draw their own conclusions based on the data.

“We see so many sci-fi movies and we think AI is like The Terminator or Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey,” said Lipizzi, teaching associate professor and program lead in the School of Systems and Enterprises. “Something that can mimic a human being, but better – something super smart, super evil, super something. The reality is that the AI we have now is a sophisticated statistical tool.”

The book begins with explanations of the science and technology driving AI and machine learning before broaching broader societal issues such as friendly AI vs. unfriendly AI, the human workforce, regulation, impact on specific industries, and the outlook of society in an increasingly AI-dominated world.

For Lipizzi, the proliferation of AI and machine learning is an exciting chapter in his life’s work that was limited early in his career due to limited computing power in the 1980s. However, Lipizzi’s curiosity kept driving him forward since the analog days in which he worked on the Xerox desktop computers that preceded Macintosh’s graphical-user interfaces.

“I tend to be curious, and I tend to take challenges. I like things in which I have no idea how to solve,” he said. “AI and natural-language processing are elements that cannot be solved in my lifetime. I am embracing a challenge I know I cannot win. But there is a lot that can be done to pass the torch.”

While the book is forward-looking, Lipizzi often simplifies complex discussions by using fictional characters to tell a story, even paying homage to his roots with comparisons of Roman emperors. Despite his place in academia, Lipizzi is aiming to inform the average Joe and the text is not written like an academic paper.

Of course, working in academia, ChatGPT is discussed. Developed by OpenAI and launched in 2022, ChatGPT is an exciting but controversial tool that presents an avenue for plagiarism with students. ChatGPT is a large-language model that can respond to human prompts and produce a written output in a desired level of length and detail.

Lipizzi understands these concerns, but counters that, “No one starts from tabula rasa.” Every piece of written work uses existing examples of previous work and is modeled on what others have produced, including this story you’re reading right now. There are still ways to detect plagiarism and it is incumbent upon students and professors to prevent it.

The potential effect on human jobs is an issue of primary concern for today’s society and Lipizzi admits all industries will be affected in some way. He posits that white-collar jobs will be more affected than blue-collar jobs, using an example of an underperforming financial advisor not being able to keep up with intuitive AI on the trading floor.

According to Lipizzi, it will be incumbent on people to understand the technology rather than run from it.

“AI might not take your job, but you could lose your job if you cannot use AI,” he said.

There have been early calls for mass regulation of AI technologies, but Lipizzi is skeptical it can be achieved. There are too many nations with competing societal and financial interests involved to realistically ever to control the technology. There will always be bad actors. However, Lipizzi agrees it is a worthwhile goal to be pursued.

Regarding the overarching societal fears reminiscent of sci-fi scare tactics depicting self-aware machines taking over, Lipizzi tamps that down.

“I don’t see right now a good representation for our reason to be able to create something that can replicate us,” said Lipizzi. “It can cover some of the functionalities. It can be a useful tool. Is this going to have a big impact on society? Yes. Is it going to be a revolution like the Industrial Revolution? Not so much.

“We have been using intelligent solutions for decades without AI, such as cruise control in our cars and auto pilot in commercial flights. However, the pace of the introduction of advanced technologies is faster than ever and we will need to adjust quickly in integrating them into our daily lives.”

You can read everything Lipizzi has to say by preordering the book on Amazon, scheduled for an April 25 release, HERE.