They are in the news – every day and all over. Chatbots are doing homework, writing novels and poems, taking exams, solving mysteries, fooling people, sometimes fooling themselves. It’s incredible – but everyone is worried. It doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t we be celebrating?
Judging from the news cycle, most people seem to be worried or outright scared. Schools are blocking the new tools from their network – or considering restrictions. All kinds of jobs and systems are under threat: Musicians (AI can compose, play, record, perform), writers – ‘the end of essays’, journalists (AI writes better stories), the education system, researchers and paralegals (AI finds and summarizes facts and data faster) and so on. Sometimes I wonder if the mainly negative attitude in the news is caused by journalists feeling threatened.
Just a feeling, but here’s the question that keeps lingering: Haven’t we been here before? Discovered some new technology, waded through scaremongering and doomsday prophecies and not only survived but thrived? Think about it. Radio would kill newspapers. Movies would kill theatres. TV would kill radio and movies. From Spinning Jenny to streaming – every significant technological advancement has been a threat. For a while. Is ChatGPT and its likes any different?
I don’t think so. It’s mostly about attitude and common sense. These chatbots and their surprising abilities are not a threat, but a challenge. We need to understand their capabilities, their limitations, their potential. That doesn’t happen via network blocking, censorship and denial. Also, like I discussed a couple of weeks ago, these tools are at stone age level (Why ChatGPT is so Stone Age). “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” is the only reasonable attitude. Plus positive curiosity. Because scepticism + curiosity is good, scepticism w/o curiosity is worse than useless, it’s a brake.
What we know for sure is the following:
- We just got started, there is much more to come (capabilities, depth, speed, …). They’re getting better by the month.
- They are here to stay. Blocking, filtering, laws, prohibitions etc. may provide some time to breathe, think and act, but in most cases it’s more like denial, a head-in-the-sand exercise.
- They are opening new doors by enabling things that have never before been possible. Most obvious in areas like research, medicine and law were searching, analyzing and summarizing huge datasets takes seconds instead of not being possible.
The last point is where the magic is. Over the last 15 years or so we have amassed more data and (presumably) knowledge than the previous million years combined. Without tools like ChatGPT most of this is useless. Even more to the point: Without tools like ChatGPT we would never be able to even separate the wheat from the chaff, get rid of the garbage (see Corporate Survival: Delete More Data!). Which would leave most of our presumably valuable digital knowledge forever worthless.
The final point of fact is the following, as formulated in a news heading in the San Jose Mercury News recently: “AI can’t reproduce the wonders of original human creativity“. This is where our focus should be – to understand what the newcomers cannot do. Then we can put them to work instead of fighting them. Like, instead of prohibiting students of all ages from using the tools, challenge them to understand the differences, to find (detect) what’s ‘machine generated’ and what’s ‘real’ as in ‘created by an intelligent, creative brain’ and what’s different between them. Maybe it’s time to change academic testing (and a lot more) from memory/recollection based to active thinking.
Of course it’s possible. And we just got started. The world needs more brainpower, real intelligence. ChatGPT and its relatives will ‘kill’ lots of jobs and thus free up a lot of capacity to focus on smarter things.
Looking back, that’s what technology has done for ages. It’s an opportunity, not a problem. “The jobs of the future will be what robots can’t do.” [Michio Kaku]