Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the center of current buzz among techies, business people, and economists these days. Why? Well, recently developed AI software appears to be able to generate increasingly human-like ‘intelligence,’ at least on the surface. Vastly improved voice recognition software allows human language to be processed by AI software in order to give relatively simple instructions to an ‘avatar’ or a translation program and put to a variety of uses.
However, while digital processing power has grown immensely, it is still (in the sense that Descartes and Newton saw the living world) mechanically reduced to the sum of its parts. Of course, digital processing cannot have lived experience—which does make a difference. It is also wise to remember that old computing axiom, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
ChatGPT is a new generative AI system that attempts to answer questions in essay form. It appears to be engaged in dialog with the user. However, its answers to simple questions with complex real-world unstated contexts, remind me of some of the undergraduate term papers I used to read, papers that I immediately knew that some UCLA graduate student had written for hire.
Sometimes I knew separately that the student could not write that well (technically), even though they might express themselves far better orally in class. Or, I knew that they were unaware of many of the sources cited in the paper. Some were very bright, but their primary and secondary schooling had failed them, a great source of frustration for them, and for me. Others were not so bright. In both cases I could spot the fake term paper immediately on first glance. I may have missed some, but we don’t know what we don’t know.
Mostly I could tell that the paper was purchased because it ‘had no soul’–that is, it resulted from completion of mechanical specifications: topic, content, length, footnotes from all the right sources, etc. All the protocols fulfilled, yet the paper was so stale and proper. The actual writers were real people, but they were mechanically producing ‘content’ in the required form, for a fee. The fee was their motivation, not the expression of some point of view on the topic.
The ChatGPT responses to user questions that I have read sound just like those term papers; they have no perspective; they were mechanical compilations from giant databases of ‘information,’ devoid of nuance. The graduate students who wrote term papers for hire were undoubtedly ‘well read,’ citing the right sources, all in the proper format for the assignment. They had all the data they needed to produce a coherent product. Yet, just like ChatGPT, they constructed the paper to meet the specifications, but without any broader context or lived experience or perspective.
When a real person writes a real essay, because s/he wants to convey a message based on a purpose—if only to express that s/he understands the material and the assignment—s/he expresses not only a particular cognitive or writing skill level, and whatever command of the material s/he may have. Regardless of the technical quality, the writing or content ‘comes from the heart,’ at least to some extent, even if the student resents or dislikes the assignment.
In terms of the very important distinction Jeremy Lent makes in his book, The Web of Meaning, a real essay is written at least in part to express the Animate Intelligence of the person who writes it (unless they are completely alienated from themselves and the world). Animate intelligence is the lived intelligence of an organism that has experienced life in the world about which we write. Like Lent, we might consider animate intelligence the original AI.
No artificial intelligence program can express feelings or perspective—it has neither. No matter how big its database, no matter how refined its processing, no protocol, program, or algorithm has animate intelligence, simply because it has no lived experience. Life is not digital and the digital is not alive and therefore does not have the emergent qualities of living consciousness. For that reason, I am not surprised that already programs have been developed to detect whether something has been written by ChatGPT or not. Counter-AI programming can eventually catch up with AI programming; neither can ever reach the level of animate intelligence, the original AI. It is all a mere cognitive arms race on a bridge from life to nowhere.
On the other hand, I am sure that the power of such ‘generative algorithms’ will grow to a point at which most humans most of the time will not be able to tell the difference,. That will happen simply because the output will continue to improve in the dimension of ‘sounding human,’ even to the extent of seeming to express a point of view. At that point, I fear, humanity will be in deep trouble. Institutionalized mechanical reasoning may create artificial perspective and sensibility by sheer algorithmic power. Nevertheless, garbage in, garbage out.
We must seriously ask ourselves as we enthuse over the growing power of the artificial kind of AI, who we are and what are we trying to accomplish in this world. For a long time now, I have been a ‘technophile’ of sorts, fascinated by every new gadget, engineering or software innovation, and new invention, eager to engage their technical powers. But with regard to ‘robots’ of any sort, mechanical or intellectual, well, especially intellectual, I draw a line when it comes to how they ‘interface’ with human and all other life; that line is at the point of human control. Humanity must control itself and its technologies or be doomed. Sorry, Ray Kurzweil, their ain’t no ‘singularity‘ near me!
Instead of all this technophilia, why don’t we focus on how to become more human by honing the connection between our animate intelligence and our (too often led astray by techno-industrial fetishism) human cognitive skills? We desperately need the creativity to transform our societies in order to live within the inviolable parameters of the living Earth System, ‘Mother Nature,’ Gaia.
We have so much to learn from those folks who live in the “Blue Zones” and from just about any indigenous culture out there. There is no technology that can get us there. The happiest people on the planet are not technophiles; they live directly in their immediate natural and social worlds. It is entirely up to us to re-establish our human identity quite apart from whatever gadgets we invent.
2 thoughts on “The Buzz on ChatGPT vs the Original A.I.”
For us who aren’t technologically aware enough to understand a lot of what AI is up to, this was very helpful!
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this is great
I’m not sure what I thought of this article, but I found it interesting. It’s something to think about how we should be thinking about AI and what we should be doing to help.
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