Strange Thinkers: David Sloly on AI For Joy
April 18, 2024
Rebecca Rooney
It gives me a lot of joy to make people laugh, even if I am using AI to do it!

David Sloly's AI sitcom podcast Made In AI follows an eccentric AI family as they take over the world.

We picked David's brain about all things artificial intelligence: from its role in society to how AI can create joy. 

What does Tech For Joy mean to you?

Tech For Joy means so many things.

The technology from my childhood has always brought me joy.

My father worked for the Society of International Telecommunications Association - they monitored everything that went up in the air, it was the biggest data centre in the world at the time. He would take me there, and it would bring me so much joy to hear the teleprinters and smell the technology. He'd bring home discarded electronic kits that reached the end of their life and I would take them apart and attempt to build something new from them. I learned to repair, break things, build things. That gave me so much joy - and it still does. I still have a workshop, which is laid out pretty much the same way as when I was a kid. 

The other side of technology bringing me joy is comedy - everyone loves to laugh! Many years ago I wrote and produced a really off-the-wall show for Kiss FM called Steve Jackson’s Morning Glory.  Making the show and making people laugh gave me a lot of joy. We were the first show that incorporated mobile phones for spying and doing stuff that was subversive, that was comedy. The idea that technology can make people laugh is fantastic.

Imagine there’s an AI robot family that takes over the world... what would their first policy be? 

At the end of season three of Made in AI, AI takes over as president of America, and its first decree is to stop oil because it understands that oil is destroying the planet. The episode talks about how laws are passed in the US and how AI can get around them. AI is a logical machine. As humans, we post rationalise, we'll do something, and we’ll post rationalise. Machines don't do post-rationalisation. They look at the problem and solve the problem.

On the flip side of stopping oil, every company is suddenly in a race to deliver green energy. By the end of the week, every company that threatens the planet is changing the way it works fearing AI will simply stop their business. At the end of the episode Obama says, “It takes someone or something to grab the problem by the neck and shake some senses.” And that's what AI can do.

What are some big misconceptions surrounding AI? 

Well, we don't know whether they really are misconceptions.

There's a lot of conversations going on. We're hearing a lot of “is AI going to take my job?” And the truth is, it may do. If you look back over history, a lot of things have taken people's jobs. This will be different to anything that’s happened before, as I believe AI will create thousands of new jobs in the same way the internet has done. But we're seeing AI move at such an accelerated pace, we humans aren't very good at keeping up. We need time to process before we can know if AI is right for us or not and we simply don’t have the luxury of time. But alongside the fear of AI, there is also hope. 

What do you mean by AI and hope? 

I'll say it: we actually see hope through AI, and we humans need hope. We see it through the opportunity AI presents, the possibility of solving some of the biggest challenges we have ever faced . 

AI can be used to figure out ways to improve sustainability. We’re already hearing cases of AI being able to analyse materials used in batteries and suggest solutions to reduce the amount of rare earth materials required to manufacture them. It can do what would take scientists years to do in hours. We should start looking at how AI can help us solve the real-world challenges we face around climate, resources, medicine, water, food and how we can live longer healthier lives. 

What’s it like working with robot-colleagues? 

When I used to work at Kiss FM, I'd go to a club and dozens of people would come and talk to me. I could go on air and say to call in and the phone lines would light up because there was a live, active audience. I got immediate feedback. Now, I work in a bubble. When I work on the podcast at 5:00AM, I’m sitting down on my own with headphones on. There’s no feedback loop. I don’t know if what I’m doing is funny or not, there’s no one there to chat it through with. And for all the possibilities AI brings, it isn’t very good (yet) at assuring me my writing is funny. But, the flip side of that is I try harder. Then a week later, I’ll get a message from someone I don’t know and they’ll tell me the episode made them laugh. And then it’s all worth it. It gives me a lot of joy to make people laugh. Even if I am using AI to do it.

© Strange Thoughts Group Ltd. 2024