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The Obligatory Post About ChatGPT
Sorry this is so late. I would have posted sooner but the last week has been marked by the California deluge and I was one of about a quarter-million people without power for a good part of that time. As I braved the drenching rain to get batteries, I reflected on the executive pay at PG&E. Their CEO received $50 million in 2021. But that’s a story for another time.
I had wanted to create a clever and recursive post about using ChatGPT to write this post by prompting ChatGPT to write it, but
- I’m sure it’s been done a zillion times anyway, and
- I already posted a blog piece written by some middling “AI” text generator, and
- ChatGPT is currently unavailable because all the ants in the anthill of the modern industrialized world swarmed over it, then Microsoft showed up waving a few billion-dollar bills and it went offline temporarily. “Don’t bother us - Great Minds are now at work.”
So, what about ChatGPT now that it’s so much the rage nobody can access it? Left only with my fallible human mind, here I try to oversimplify the overly complicated.
What’s the fuss? What does this thing do?
Think of ChatGPT’s technology as a gigantic sponge, that has sopped up a lot of the liquid that’s been running through the Internet’s pipes since forever ago in the form of blogs, books, poems, recipes, and shopping lists. Some of this mix is nutritious juice, some of it is sewage, and the sponge doesn’t care. When a human squeezes the sponge a bit to extract a concoction made from this stuff by entering a prompt, new text drips out that is formulated in proportion to how much juice and how much sewage has been soaked up. What results is a discharge of statistically likely text that is related to the prompt - and that’s it.
The sponge has no discernment. It has no judgement. It has no morals.
But the sponge is extremely clever and makes the text dribbles seem like they came from the humans whose writings were appropriated. This is the kicker. This sponge isn’t a decision aid, an analytic engine, a problem solver, or a way to enhance human understanding or knowledge. It’s designed solely to produce text that more or less appears to have been written by a human, a deep deception at its core.
People are fascinated with simulacra of themselves, and this newest Internet fad isn’t surprising. “It’s fun! It’s impressive! It talks just like me!” But there’s more to it than fun and narcissism. The drumbeat that’s thrilling the swirling crowd is the predictable thudding of “There’s A Lot of Money to be ‘Made’ Here” - and the crew that’s drumming about all the money is the same as it ever was.
BOHICA means “Bend Over Here It Comes Again.” Reflect on the last generation of technology promises: making people’s lives better and more connected, bringing relief from drudgery, fostering economic prosperity, expanding human understanding. Let’s think back ….
Remember entering your sensitive personal information into Facebook? The tweet where you said something about your boss and then got fired? The investment in Bitcoin you made in 2021? The endless social media train wreck of QAnon, disinformation, election conspiracies, insurrectionists, anti-vaxxers, and anti-maskers?
Yes, it’s absolutely true that some of ChatGPT’s promises will be fulfilled in some measure – but not without weaponization, malicious abuse, and destructive unanticipated consequences. We’re entering a new round of information chaos, confusion, and conflict between good guys and bad guys. All that will be different this time is a change in the “damage function” and the roster of victims and victors. There will be a new generation of a few “winners” and many more losers.
Bend over. Here it comes again. Check back in five years.