6 podcasts to make sense of artificial intelligence

As the technology’s rapid rise sets off alarms about the risks to society, these shows will help put the boom into context. (Photo: NYTimes)
Over the past year, artificial intelligence has advanced so rapidly that it feels dizzying, and a growing chorus of industry insiders, academics and politicians are sounding the alarm about risks to society. اضافة اعلان

The effects have already been wide-ranging — colleges are struggling to weed out AI-generated essays, disinformation researchers are contending with a whole new category of deepfakes, and the threat of AI screenwriting is central to the current Hollywood writers’ strike.

Plenty of technology podcasts have been covering AI’s rapid rise, including the “Hard Fork”, from The New York Times, in which reporter Kevin Roose reflects on his unforgettable Valentine’s Day encounter with a rogue chatbot. Here are six more shows that’ll help to put the AI boom into context.

‘Radiotopia Presents: Bot Love’This AI-focused miniseries from Radiotopia couldn’t have had a more timely debut. Its first episode arrived the same week as Bing’s AI chatbot declared its love for Roose. That unforgettable, and unsettling, Valentine’s Day encounter fueled ongoing debate over the implications of creating AI that can bond. “Bot Love” delves into that subject, exploring what intimacy can look like between a human and a chatbot. Hosted by Anna Oakes and Diego Senior (alongside their co-host, a text-to-speech bot whose presence lends a meta element to the show), each installment of the seven-episode series chronicles a different person’s relationship with an AI companion.

Combining interviews alongside recordings of their AI interactions, the show offers a thought-provoking and compassionate meditation on some uneasy questions. A theme that emerges repeatedly is how AI is being used as a mental health tool and its potential for harm, as in the story of a man whose addiction to a chatbot only worsens his social isolation during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Starter episode: “Bot Love 5 — Maybe I’ve Got A Problem”

‘In Machines We Trust’
Produced by the MIT Technology Review and hosted by Jennifer Strong, this deeply researched series provides weekly deep dives into how modern life has been transformed by AI. The show began in 2020 with several episodes dedicated to facial recognition software, and the unnerving rise of its use by governments, private companies and police departments.

Since then, “In Machines We Trust” has explored the use of AI in everything from consumer finance and gun control to medical diagnosis, while also keeping an eye on the big-picture ethics of the industry. Some episodes are dedicated to an oral history project titled “I Was There When,” which highlights turning points in the development of AI, as told by witnesses to its rise.

Starter episode: “When AI hears a problem”

‘The Bot Canon’
ChatGPT’s ability to write just about anything, including college essays, programming code and even scripts for TV shows, has had a far-reaching impact on daily life since its launch in the fall of 2022. As alarming as the development is for many industries, though, it’s clear that chatbots have a long way to go when it comes to writing fiction.

For proof, just take a look at the AI-generated TV scripts now available online, and this thoroughly entertaining podcast further proves that point. “The Bot Canon”, hosted by Hannah Keefer, seeks out what happens when you ask an AI to co-write the most beloved novels of all time. Each episode begins with the actual opening lines of a literary classic like “Pride and Prejudice,” before taking a hard left turn into an AI-generated continuation. Some are reasonable-if-shaky imitations, while others descend quickly into surreal chaos. Although the show hasn’t been updated since January, the back catalog is deep, comprising plenty of classics like “Little Women” alongside contemporary hits like “The Da Vinci Code.”

Starter episode: “The Hobbot (J.R.R. Tolkien)”

‘Tech Won’t Save Us"
This incisive weekly show isn’t explicitly about AI so much as the tech industry overall, but the subject has been unsurprisingly dominant in recent episodes. Hosted by technology writer Paris Marx and a rotating cast of guest experts, the podcast takes a highly skeptical view of Silicon Valley, and specifically its tendency to prioritize efficiency and disruption regardless of the human cost.

Nevertheless, “Tech Won’t Save Us” is neither doom-laden nor scaremongering, presenting potential solutions alongside its analysis of what’s not working. For anyone alarmed by all of the widespread predictions about AI swallowing whole entire job sectors, the show’s measured coverage might prove reassuring.

Starter episode: “Chatbots Won’t Take Many Jobs”

Though aspects of this anxiety-laden cyber thriller from five years ago no longer feel as current as they once did, it’s still an intriguing exploration of what separates human intelligence from the artificial kind. “Sandra” was the second audio drama from Gimlet Media following the success of “Homecoming,” and features a similarly star-studded cast, with Kristen Wiig voicing the eponymous Alexa-esque virtual assistant who is — in an unexpected twist — not a true AI. Instead, Sandra is powered by an army of human call center operators, who are paid to listen in on customers and respond to their needs in real time. Alia Shawkat (“Search Party”) stars as a new hire who becomes increasingly drawn into the powerful possibilities of her new gig, and doesn’t realize until too late that she’s in over her head.

Starter episode: “Hope Is A Mistake”

‘Endless Thread’
Since it began in 2017, this series from the Boston-based, NPR-affiliate WBUR has expanded beyond its original horizons, which focused specifically on Reddit and the online communities it creates. Hosted by Ben Brock Johnson and Amory Sivertson, “Endless Thread” now delves into the stories behind all kinds of technological ephemera. Last year, the show ran a six-part miniseries about the rise of AI titled “Good Bot, Bad Bot,” beginning with an illuminating oral history of ELIZA, the first chatbot therapist, and the Frankenstein-esque misgivings it inspired in its creator.

Starter episode: “Good Bad, Bad Bot Part 1: Mental Health and Bot Therapy”

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