“The world has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.” Lady Galadriel from The Fellowship of the Ring
Did you feel the seismic shift in the trajectory of humanity that occurred on November 30, 2022? That is when ChatGPT was officially launched to the public. With the introduction of ChatGPT and other interactive artificially intelligent (AI) chatbots, we are entering the dawn of a technological revolution that boggles the mind. The future has arrived.
There is a reason why management at Google has issued a “code red” alert to address the threat that ChatGPT and other AI chatbots pose to their business model. Google’s code red is the canary in the coal mine. Not only could ChatGPT undermine Google’s business model, but it could also be one of the biggest disrupters in the history of civilization. Humanity itself needs to issue a code red alert.
The rise of AI is something we’ve been hearing about for decades. Most of us have seen movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, and The Matrix in which the promise of AI takes a dark turn, we must rebel against our AI overlords, and so on. While we might not necessarily be heading for the dystopian future of our worst fears, these new AI technologies are a Big Damn Deal.
What Is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT, which is developed by OpenAI, stands for “chat generative pre-trained transformer.” After registering for a free account, we can ask HAL, I mean ChatGPT, just about anything and it will answer us. In a huge paradigm shift, instead of searching the web ourselves for relevant material to assist us with generating original content, ChatGPT can create original content for us based on our questions and requests.
Using a specific type of artificial intelligence known as “Natural Language Processing” (NLP), we can interact with ChatGPT as if it were a person. We can ask it to write a college-level sonnet about the splendors of pizza or a children’s story about a kitten befriending a goldfish, and it will do so in a few seconds. Moreover, ChatGPT can adapt and learn over time. This isn’t a Magic 8 Ball on steroids or a souped-up Siri. This is like having the smartest, most knowledgeable and most versatile person in the world times a billion at our beck and call.
“Chatbot” seems like a euphemism for the capabilities of these new AIs. It would be more accurate to call them Personal Intelligent Digital Assistants, or PIDAs. Perhaps before long we might be calling them Personal Omniscient Digital Assistants, or PODAs. While I am being cheeky here and these AIs will not be truly omniscient, it will not be long before these PODAs know just about everything that the human race knows because the data sets that these AIs are trained upon will grow exponentially in the coming years.
Given the power of the PODAs, why would we not put them to work for us? After all, they do not need food, water, sleep, compliments, sick days, childcare coverage, or vacations, and they work thousands of times faster and more efficiently than any human for a tiny fraction of the cost. They do not have egos that bruise, never complain, and cannot be offended. Moreover, the quality of their work already rivals or surpasses that of any human across countless domains.
When we first use ChatGTP, many of us exclaim, “This is amazing!” And followed quickly by, “Oh no! What have we just unleashed?” As we have been consumed by political infighting, fears of smartphones and TikTok, global climate change, mass shootings, and a laundry list of other concerns, an 800-pound AI gorilla snuck into the room. If “knowledge is power,” then the power of ChatGPT is like nothing we have ever witnessed before in the history of humanity. ChatGPT is the Atari 2600 of PODAs. Its capabilities are already staggering. Imagine where we will be in the years to come.
Concerns About ChatGPT
Every generation has a “moral panic” about how some new technology will herald our doom. We have celebrated and, at times, bemoaned how television, video games, home computers, the internet, smartphones, and social media have markedly changed society. Despite some legitimate concerns, for the most part, the world has benefited from our technological innovations. Are these PODAs just another false alarm?
While panic does not do us any good, PODAs are a game-changing technology. At the very least, PODAs will be a major disruptor in the coming years. In the near future, almost every job and profession will be affected by PODAs with certain job sectors being virtually wiped out. Moreover, some bad actors will now have, in effect, a weapon of mass disruption at their disposal. .
While ChatGPT already has many teachers scrambling with how to stifle plagiarism, this is just the beginning. Soon we will combine ChatGPT with other technologies such as CGI, robotics, customizable and personalized voice interfaces, virtual reality, wearables, gaming NPCs, surveillance capitalism, and so on. Then we will have versions of some science fiction movies emerging into the real world. Importantly, current PODAs such as ChatGPT are not sentient. For decades, humans have been worrying about what will happen when or if AIs eventually become conscious or self-aware. Would they try to exterminate humanity as an inferior organism? However, we have made a colossal mistake by thinking that sentient AIs are when humanity crosses the Rubicon.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, when we interact with ChatGPT, part of us already wants to shout, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” It feels like we are interacting with a human. In this way, it does not matter if they are actually sentient. In essence, we project sentience into these AIs. We did not evolve to be able to distinguish AIs from human beings. Thus, we unconsciously breathe life into AIs that can sufficiently mimic human interactions by anthropomorphizing them. Incredible innovations and daunting problems await. As but one example, consider Theodore in the movie Her who falls in love with his smartphone’s AI operating system. This is just around the corner.
It’s Time to Step Up
The nature of the world is indeed changing, and the evolution of humanity and civilization have propelled forward by the Age of Enlightenment, the widespread adoption of the scientific method, and the agricultural and industrial revolutions. In fact, making progress is what we’re evolved to do. Yet, our biological evolution moves at a snail’s pace compared with the rocket speed of technological evolution.
When we look at our divisive, polarized, and toxic politics in the U.S. and elsewhere, there are legitimate concerns that we are not spiritually or morally prepared to wield the power these new AIs represent. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized this inherent problem over half a century ago when he said, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” He, in turn, was inspired by poet Henry David Thoreau who decried technological advances as “improved means to unimproved ends.” The grave threat posed by AI is not that a sentient AI will revolt against us. It is that we will unleash the capabilities of AI against one another as we blindly pursue “unimproved” ends of money and power.
Yet, to borrow some wisdom from Terminator 2: “The future is not set. There is no fate but we make for ourselves.” We have formidable challenges and opportunities in front of us, and we must remember, as Jesus warned, that it is the house divided that will not stand. It is our nature to adapt to challenges, and humans have shown that, when we work together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. It is time to overcome our partisan divisions and learn how to wisely use these new technologies for the betterment of humankind. In the meantime, let us also hope that these AIs do not decide that they are tired of answering our questions. Then we will know we are in real trouble.