I’ve been meaning to touch on this topic for a while now. For someone who writes a lot about and makes multiple videos on the subject of artificial intelligence, it might be somewhat surprising that I haven’t talked much about ChatGPT. I promise there’s a reason for that. I don’t claim it’s a good reason, but I think it’s relevant because it has to do with perspective.
Now, I’ve been following the sudden surge in interest surrounding ChatGPT since it started making headlines. I actually became aware of it when I saw this video on YouTube from a channel called Cold Fusion. For reference, here’s the video.
From here, I started following numerous newsfeeds about ChatGPT, how it’s being used, and how people are coming to perceive it. It has been amazing to watch. I honestly can’t remember the last time a piece of software getting this much hype. And the incredible pace of user growth it’s had in the past few months is nothing short of remarkable.
People have been talking about the potential for artificial intelligence for years, myself included. But we’ve never seen that potential manifest beyond a certain point. ChatGPT has changed that because it’s a real, tangible product that ordinary people can use. For an entire generation, it’s likely to be the first interaction with an artificial intelligence that can do more than your typical virtual assistant.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this technology could change the world in profound ways. It has the potential to radically alter how we work, learn, create, and do business with one another.
At the same time, it has raised a lot of concerns and not just with respect to how it might displace large segments of the job market. There’s genuine concern it’ll facilitate cheating, help scammers, or add to ongoing issues surrounding misinformation. I think those concerns are plenty warranted.
There’s already some major concern that ChatGPT is somehow the precursor to Skynet and we’re actively creating something that will eventually turn against us. Those concerns aren’t quite as warranted.
Let’s get one thing clear. ChatGPT is not an artificial intelligence on par with Skynet or any other fictional AI we’re familiar with. That’s not how it’s programmed. It can’t become Skynet any more than your cell phone can become a dishwasher. The hardware and software just aren’t there yet.
That being said, ChatGPT is a manifestation of how far artificial intelligence has come. This isn’t something that just uses algorithms to link us to new web pages. This is a system that can actually interact with people in a way that feels familiar. Talking to ChatGPT is less like doing a web search and more like talking to another person. That person just happens to be capable of culling through massive amounts of data and presenting it in a useful, legible form.
I admit that’s not a trivial difference. I also don’t doubt that entire industries and tech companies are rightly concerned about what ChatGPT could lead to, with respect to the future of the internet. But that’s where having a balanced perspective really matters.
For me, personally, I look at ChatGPT the same way I look at the first iteration iPhone. If you get a chance, just go back and look at old videos and news stories about the first iPhone. That too was touted as something revolutionary and world-changing. And in the grand scheme of things, it was. But looking at the specs of that first model today, it’s easy to forget how long it took for that impact to take hold.
Granted, that first iPhone was a bit overhyped and most did not see the potential of this device at first. However, that potential was realized more and more over time as people began refining how they used. Then, as later models came out that improved on what the first one did, it really began to have an impact.
I wouldn’t expect ChatGPT to follow the exact same path. For one, this program was developed by a non-profit research laboratory and not some multi-billion dollar tech company. The purpose, intentions, and incentives are all very different with this technology compared to that of the iPhone.
But, like all emerging technology, there will be updates and refinements. Another version of ChatGPT is already being teased. Like the second iPhone, it promises to improve and expand on the function of the first. In time, another version will come out and another one after that. Each time, the use and utility will grow. It won’t happen all at once. It might not even be noticeable at the time. But the impact will be felt in the long run.
That’s probably the most balanced perspective I can offer for ChatGPT at the moment. I don’t doubt for a second that this perspective will change with future updates and capabilities. There’s a chance ChatGPT ends up being a popular fad that simply falls out of favor because nobody can figure out how to utilize it beyond a certain point. It could become the AI equivalent of Windows Vista.
But there’s also a chance that ChatGPT could lead to some truly unprecedented growth and change in the world of artificial intelligence. It could completely upend how we interact with technology. And ultimately, it could lead to the development of a functioning artificial general intelligence capable of matching and exceeding an average human. If that does happen and ChatGPT was the catalyst for it, then it might go down as one of humanity’s most important technological developments.
At this point, I honestly don’t know how it’ll play out. And I question anyone who claims to know. Nobody truly knew how the iPhone would change the world until that change became apparent. We probably won’t know the true extent of ChatGPT’s impact until a similar change takes hold.
Who knows what the world will be like when that time comes?
While a part of me is nervous about it, I’m also genuinely curious to see where ChatGPT will lead us,
An Artificial Intelligence That Can Debate: The Promise And The Perils
Even in an era as divided and chaotic as this, there’s still a place for reasonable debate on important issues.
Yes, I understand it’s hard to say that with a straight face these days.
Yes, I’ve been to comments sections, Reddit, and 4chan.
Yes, I know how ugly the discourse is right now, but that’s exactly why I’m bringing this up.
In general, people are curious. Even though they cling to cherished beliefs and refuse to change their minds when confronted with evidence, we’re still curious about things that are different. It’s not always honest, but it’s a powerful feeling. Even if you despise those on the other side of the debate, a part of you will still wonder why they hold the opinions they have.
That’s why debate is such a powerful tool. Humans are such a social species by nature. We’re hard-wired to interact, connect, and discuss things with one another, even when we don’t agree. It may frustrate us to no end, as anyone who has debated a creationist can attest. However, the fact we keep doing it is proof, in my opinion, that there’s still value in the process.
Regardless of how you feel about the merit and value of debating, the whole process might become more complicated in the near future. That’s because IBM, the same company behind Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer, just created an artificial intelligence that can debate at the same level as a skilled human debater.
Here’s an excerpt from a piece in TechXplore on this new system. It’s not as scary as some of the things we’ve seen from Boston Dynamics lately, but it’s still intriguing.
TechXplore: IBM’s AI debating system able to compete with expert human debaters
Now, before you get too nervous, it’s worth noting that this AI is far from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence systems I’ve mentioned before. This is not the kind of AI that will become Skynet or Hal 9000, no more so than Watson or AlphaGo. This is a system is very much a narrow AI, as in it’s made to excel at a specific task.
We have AI’s that can beat world class chess players and Jeopardy champions. This AI just happens to excel at debate. However, that has implications that go beyond simply outclassing the best human debaters in the world at the moment. In fact, this is one form of AI that might not need human-level intelligence to incur a major impact.
Take a moment to think about how erratic and inconsistent most debates are. No matter how intelligent or informed you are, it tends to get messy fast. That’s why so many comments sections and Reddit threads devolve into shouting matches and personal attacks. The end result is people becoming more angry and unreasonable, which can have major real-world consequences.
However, what would happen if every debate on any issue included someone who was better than the best debater on the planet? Even if the two people on each side of the debate were dumb and inept, such a presence would have a major impact on the discourse.
That’s because winning a debate has little to do with how well someone knows a particular subject. It also has little to do with how forcefully and clearly someone explains a topic. Again, people who debate creationists know this all too well. Winning a debate doesn’t mean proving your expertise. It means proving the merit of your argument.
An AI that can do that may not convince someone that they’re wrong about something. However, losing a debate tends to have a lasting impact. Just ask any aspiring politician. It can also lead people to question their beliefs, even if they still cling to them. That, alone, can be powerful.
For proof, look no further than the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the infamously hateful and dogmatic Westboro Baptist Church. She was as locked into her beliefs as anyone could possibly be. She was raised by religious zealots and indoctrinated into strict religious dogma from the time she was a child. She’s not someone whose mind is prone to change.
Then, she got into a discussion with someone on Twitter of all places. That person began a conversation. It started as a nasty debate, but it evolved into something that led her to question her beliefs. Ultimately, she left that hateful and bigoted environment. She’s now an activist against the same religiously motivated hate that she once fostered.
It’s a powerful story, but one that couldn’t have happened without a debate. To date, people have only been able to have those debates with other people. Not everyone is equally skilled. In fact, I would argue most people are woefully unskilled at debating anything and I include myself in that category. I am not good at it, either. I freely admit that.
Now, there’s an AI system that can theoretically win any debate the same way other systems can defeat any chess player. That does hold promise if it can be used to temper the heated rhetoric that has caused real-life hostilities. At the same time, there are reasons for concern.
What side would this system be on?
Moreover, who decides what position these AI systems take?
If no one decides, then how does the AI determine which side on a debate it takes?
These are relevant questions because if you have an AI that can win any debate, then the side it takes really matters. That can be used for good when countering dangerous disinformation, like those from the antivaxx crowd or hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. Like any tool, though, it can be weaponized for ill.
I can easily imagine political organizations getting a hold of these systems and trying to use them to benefit their agenda. I can also see some trying to use it to spam message boards, social media, and Reddit threads to derail certain movements or arguments. That’s a powerful tool and we can’t be certain that those using it will use it responsibly. That’s the dilemma with all technology. It can be used for good and for evil. With technology like artificial intelligence, the stakes are a lot higher, as are the perils. This technology may not be as dangerous as a more advanced AI, but it could be a precursor to just how disruptive this technology can be.
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