INTERVIEW: How Egyptians can benefit from ChatGPT, avoid potential negative consequences

Aya Salah , Sunday 30 Apr 2023

Mina Henein, a Ph.D. holder, researcher and lecturer at the Australian National University’s School of Cybernetics, sheds light on artificial intelligence (AI) innovative tools like ChatGPT and how Egyptians can benefit from such chatbots while avoiding their potential negative consequences.

File Photo: Shows screens displaying the logos of OpenAI and ChatGPT. AFP


In an interview with Ahram Online, Henein also provided insights into the usage of newly emerged AI chats in Egyptians' daily life as well as in various disciplines.

Henein, a roboticist, technologist, and entrepreneur, has computer vision and exploration robotics expertise and is passionate about education and promoting the responsible use of AI.

His recent research covers multidisciplinary teams, human-machine collaboration, and AI's role in climate change-related issues.

Ahram Online: Can ChatGPT's immense popularity be extended to Egypt in particular, given that 60 percent of Egypt's population is between 10-49-years-old and has more than 69.4 million people using mobile internet?

Mina Henein​: There is no doubt that ChatGPT will gain popularity in Egypt very soon. I think it is only a matter of time before ChatGPT gets used in various aspects of our daily lives in the Arab World and Egypt in particular, especially with the young population and the high percentage of people with access to the internet.

We should be asking how to make sure such a powerful tool is used in a way that is well-suited to and that protects, cherishes and enriches our history, culture, ethics, and social and societal norms and constructs.

AO: Despite the growing number of users worldwide, the program and its alternatives have yet to gain wide popularity in Egypt. Why? Do you believe the high illiteracy rate in Egypt is a reason for this?

MH: As an AI language model, ChatGPT (and other Large Language Models (LLM)) is a relatively new technology, and its popularity is still growing globally. Its popularity, or unpopularity, in Egypt, may be due to several factors, such as language barriers, digital and non-digital literacy, governmental regulations, and cultural and social norms. And like every new tool, adopting any new piece of technology faces some resistance when introduced.

AO: How can Egyptians benefit from ChatGPT and other AI tools in different work fields and domains?

MH: It’s important to remember that ChatGPT is just one example of one family of AI tools. We have been living and interacting with and, in some cases, highly depending on AI for tens of years. AI tools like ChatGPT can potentially improve various aspects of life, from education and healthcare to finance, agriculture, and transportation. And this is no different to Egypt.

As an LLM chatbot, one obvious use would be language learning and customer service. In its current form, ChatGPT can help Egyptians learn new languages or improve their language skills by providing conversational practice in real-time. In addition, businesses can also use AI-powered chatbots to offer service and support to their customers, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

More sophisticated use of AI would include healthcare, finance, agriculture and climate-change-related issues. For example, AI-powered tools can help healthcare professionals in Egypt make more accurate diagnoses and treatment plans for their patients based on data analysis, leading to better health outcomes.

AI-powered tools can also help farmers in Egypt make better crop management and irrigation decisions, leading to increased crop yields and more efficient use of resources.

This should be a major focus of the government, particularly with the potentially limited water resources Egypt is predicted to face in the future.

Another use of AI should be for the climate. I personally think AI will play a crucial role in solving environmental problems related to climate change, either by mitigating the adverse effects of greenhouse gas emissions or by creating new ways to adapt to the new environment and climate conditions we live in today because of climate change, like bushfires, droughts, hurricanes and others.

For all of this to happen, we first need to create the right educational system to teach AI, its theory, limitations and potential impacts, not only to ensure a more informed populace that understands the technologies they interact with every day but also to inspire the next generation of AI researchers and users.

AO: To what extent do you believe ChatGPT can cause a revolution in different workplaces, just like how “online conferences" and “work from home culture” introduced to Egypt during Covid-19?

MH: I don’t think I can call it a revolution in its current form; to me, a technological revolution is a drastic change in the way we see, perceive and do things as a result of new technology. The internet is a clear example; it has revolutionised how we live, work, and play; the introduction of online conferences, on the other hand, was just an evolution or adaptation to how we do things.

It was the next best step linearly. The internet, however, caused a leap forward in how we communicate, work, study, live, and play which was far from linear.

What ChatGPT is doing now is similar to what Microsoft Office Clippy attempted to do a few decades ago in predicting tasks and assisting users in completing them. In its current form and with all its current limitations, I can confidently say it will change how we work, live and interact with others and will do so in a great way. Still, I would have many reservations about saying it will cause a revolution.

In its current form, ChatGPT lacks an understanding of the meaning of the text it processes or produces; an understanding of the meaning of the text would cause a revolution!

On the other hand, the Metaverse would cause a revolution; whether a desirable or undesirable future will unfold because of the Metaverse is a different question.

AO: From the other side, do you believe the AI chatbots can negatively affect Egyptian productivity and make them rely on AI tools most of the time instead of just using them for assistance? And how can we effectively and ethically avoid misusing it?

MH: Like any new technology, AI chatbots can have positive and negative consequences, some even unintended, undesigned or unthought of. Consequently, AI chatbots can negatively affect people's productivity if they become overly reliant on them. While chatbots can help provide quick assistance, people may become too dependent upon them and avoid thinking critically or doing their research. Rather than negatively affecting productivity, becoming less critical thinkers and doers would be my concern.

To avoid misusing AI chatbots or any new technology, it is essential to have a systems approach when designing, deploying, testing, maintaining and decommissioning such technologies.

It's also essential for individuals to develop an understanding of the tool, the basic science behind it, its potentials, limitations, and broader social and societal impacts, and for the companies and governments to provide the right tools and education to develop such an understanding.

It is also essential to provide users with clear guidelines and to develop the proper regulations to inform the usage of new technologies, to ensure new technologies are designed with user privacy and data security in mind, and with a level of transparency and algorithmic fairness to provide safe, responsible, and sustainable use of the technology.

AO: Many predictions indicate that in the next few years, AI will be a global concern when it comes to jobs and human labour. This may include Egypt too. So, in your opinion, how can governments, businesses, and individuals work together to ensure that these technologies' benefits are widely shared and that those impacted by job loss are supported through this transition?

MH: AI is one of the most powerful yet feared concepts of the 21st century, and its impact on jobs and human labour is of global concern. AI is already causing a shift in the job market, creating new jobs, making others obsolete, and changing how current jobs are being done.

To ensure that the benefits of these technologies are shared widely, governments, businesses, and individuals need to collaborate around three main pillars; education, entrepreneurship, and responsible innovation.

Governments and businesses need to invest and work together to provide education and training programmes that equip workers with the skillset they need to adapt to the changing job market. Individuals should also take responsibility for their own learning and development, embracing a culture of lifelong learning to stay current with new technologies and job opportunities.

Governments should create and foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship by providing resources and incentives for startups and small businesses that are developing new AI technologies and applications, which would create new job opportunities and help drive economic growth.

And finally, businesses should take responsibility for the ethical and responsible development of AI technologies, ensuring that they are designed and deployed in ways that are fair, transparent, safe, reliable, and sustainable, and these should be informed by government regulations and standards.

AO: How can ordinary Egyptian citizens benefit from the newly emerged AI chats in their daily life, away from work fields?

MH: The interested layperson can benefit from AI-powered chatbots in various ways depending on interests. From personal skill development and brainstorming business ideas to entertainment, content creation, and assisted decision-making, AI-powered tools like ChatGPT can benefit non-tech-savvy people in many ways.

We’ve already seen examples of people using ChatGPT for storytelling, entertainment, riddle solving, joke telling, content creation, blogging, language learning and translation, programming and software building, email composing and resume generating, etc. And I still think there’s room for so many creative ways Egyptians can utilise this tool.   

AO: Do you expect that ChatGPT can reach a stage of high popularity and consumption and be used daily like social media apps? If so, why?

MH: People are lazy by default, and I mean it in the best possible way. Lazy in the sense that we will always find ways to make things easier. We are part of nature, and nature will always take the easiest path.

Our laziness prompts us to invent and create and develop ways to ease our lives, and consequently, we will always use tools that make it easier for us to achieve tasks, and ChatGPT is no different.

AO: What are the negative aspects of AI tools need to be considered when new or advanced users use them?

MH: Any new tool invented has positive and negative consequences, some intended and designed, others unintended, unexpected, or unthought of. To be able to answer this question, we need to go back to 1966 when the first chatbot was released by MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum. Eliza was invented as a psychotherapist and intended to show how shallow computerised understanding of human language was. Yet, surprisingly, many users immediately formed close relationships with the chatbot, stealing away for hours to share intimate conversations.

Weizenbaum was particularly unnerved when his secretary, upon first interacting with the program she had watched him build from the beginning, asked him to leave the room so she could carry on privately with Eliza.

This makes us consider new technologies' ethical, social, societal, legal, and environmental implications. Users should be aware of how these new technologies affect how they see and perceive things, think about things, and interact with others and the environment as a result.   

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