John Oliver Calls Artificial Intelligence “The George Santos of Technology”

The increasing intrusion of artificial intelligence into our daily lives has incited both horror and humor, making it ripe subject matter for John Oliver. On Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, the host dove into the complexities of AI—from robotic-writing software programs like ChatGPT, which have helped students cheat on homework and threaten to render some professions obsolete—to more complex, largely fictional systems like “Jarvis in Iron Man or the program that made Joaquin Phoenix fall in love with his phone in Her.” 

Oliver began by riffing on a few headline-making AI creations, including Nothing Forever, a live streamed, short-lived parody of Seinfeld. “It wound up getting temporarily banned from Twitch after it featured a transphobic stand-up bit,” Oliver said. “So if its goal was to emulate sitcoms from the ‘90s, I guess mission accomplished.” He then joked about the role artificial intelligence can play in sifting through resumes during an application process. “Three corporate mergers from now, when this show is finally canceled by our new business daddy Disney Kellog’s Raytheon and I’m out of a job,” Oliver began, “my resume is going to include this hot, hot photo of a semi-new computer. Just a little something to sweeten the pot for the filthy little algorithm that’s reading it.”

The various concerns humans have about AI are exacerbated by the Black Box problem, or when a program completes a task so beyond human comprehension that a scenario arises in which no one knows how it works. “Basically, think of AI like a factory that makes Slim Jims,” Oliver quipped. “We know what comes out—red and angry meat twigs. And we know what goes in—barnyard anuses and hot glue. But what happens in between is a bit of a mystery.” 

And while some chatbots make fairly innocent mistakes, others are outright “spouting false information,” Oliver said, before comparing this pattern to a certain Republican politician with a nasty lying streak. “Basically, these programs seem to be the George Santos of technology—they’re incredibly confident, incredibly dishonest. And for some reason, people seem to find that more amusing than dangerous.”

As artificial intelligence continues to worm its way into new factions of society, Oliver said that it’s nearly impossible to predict the consequences. “When Instagram was launched, the first thought wasn’t, ‘This will destroy teenage girls’ self-esteem,’” he recalled. “When Facebook was released, no one expected it to contribute to genocide. But both of those things fucking happened.” Oliver added, “If [AI] is anything like most technological advances over the past few centuries, unless we are very careful, it can also hurt the underprivileged, enrich the powerful, and widen the gap between them.”

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