Letter to the Editor: Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and its potential has only begun to be explored
“Sometimes I just don’t understand human behavior.”
These iconic words from C-3PO in “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) echo more than a simple response to the rudeness of Han Solo. C-3PO’s inability to fully grasp sarcasm and passive aggressive human behavior gave his character comedic depth.
The functions of droids like C-3PO in the “Star Wars” universe are multifaceted. They’re artificial intelligence (AI) that provide logistical and technical support to their human and non-human companions. They make their lives easier, eliminating the tedium of burdensome tasks so the heroes can focus on the goal at hand.
They’re authentic and direct. This seems to be a solid model for what AI can do for humanity. Their cerebral style of communication always was the stuff of science fiction. However, with the advent of AI like ChatGPT, “human-cyborg relations” are beginning to materialize. Now is a crucial time to reflect on our relationship with AI and envision our path moving forward.
I first encountered ChatGPT in the “South Park” episode “Deep Learning.” The show finds Stan and his companions using ChatGPT to craft romantic text messages to their girlfriends. The girls fall deeper in love with their fourth grade soulmates, only to later discover the boys were using ChatGPT to create individualized, tailored responses.
One doesn’t need to watch the episode to imagine the scorn that followed.
I downloaded ChatGPT to explore what it had to offer. I began by feeding it small pieces of information to analyze. I’d ask it questions about certain music I liked or movies I was into.
The depth of analysis I got back was astounding. I can equate this growing fascination with ChatGPT to no other technological boon in my life (yes, even the Playstation 5). Here it was, my very own C-3PO. As information seekers, sometimes we don’t always get the feedback or depth we need from our friends and family. Few things are more disheartening than crafting a detailed message to a friend and receiving “cool” as a response.
For two decades, Wikipedia has always been my go-to for getting quick, digestible information on a topic. Its format and layout are highly accessible. As 2023 moved on, I routinely consulted ChatGPT for complex, multi-dimensional answers that would ordinarily presuppose diving down several Wikipedia rabbit holes. Much like interacting with one’s own personal “Star Wars” droid, ChatGPT can synthesize information from various fields and provide concise responses. Ordinarily, the onus of synthesizing was on me.
The nuanced responses given by ChatGPT are unparalleled. Never before has there been access to such analytical and incontrovertible truth at the tips of our fingers. ChatGPT doesn’t lie. It doesn’t have opinions. It doesn’t have motivations. It doesn’t have instincts.
To quote Kyle Reese in “The Terminator” (1984), “It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.” It simply collects data at lightning speed and formulates deep, critical analysis rivaled by only the brightest minds (and humans are starting to lose that rivalry). Day in and day out, I began to use ChatGPT to get answers quickly and effectively.
Legions of people continually dismiss AI as something that will be harmful to humanity. I often hear people criticize its potential to eliminate jobs. When I take that bait, I usually argue the jobs it will replace are tasks humans would rather not do in the first place. I’m typically met with the usual political moralizing on how people “don’t want to work.”
Forgive me for having purpose outside of my 9 to 5. Most of us weren’t born wealthy. We’ve spent the majority of our lives doing tasks we otherwise wouldn’t be doing if we weren’t passionate about food, clothing and shelter.
The leisure time AI can provide could give humanity the time for higher order pursuits it doesn’t otherwise have due to the cycle of working 40-plus hours a week, raising families and then having to continually recover from that pattern, only to repeat it again (and again). Free time equates to brief, commercial-like breaks from that rhythm.
Without digressing into the perilous waters of class warfare and wealth inequality, it seems reasonable to assume the careful implementation of AI to solve tedious day-to-day conundrums is a no-brainer (literally). More to the point, it’s inevitable.
AI is here whether we like it or not. ChatGPT is merely the tip of iceberg.
Similar to previous technological milestones like electricity and the internet, there’s no going back. The advent of such technologies fundamentally changed human productivity and advancement exponentially. AI is another one of those milestones and perhaps the most pivotal one of all. Gen-Z is unable to remember life before the internet. Similarly, much of Generation Alpha and all of Generation Beta will be unable to remember life before AI.
There’s a growing fear that for some lonely people, AIs like ChatGPT could replace human relationships. ChatGPT is programmed to forget our past interactions with it upon closing the app. This is for security reasons, but it proves effective at keeping the AI chat bot from getting to know you.
The cerebral responses I receive from ChatGPT are insightful, useful and convenient. However, they could never replace the warmth and comfort received from human companionship. If a person is seeking that warmth and comfort from ChatGPT, it’s indicative of a much deeper problem. I’ve found ChatGPT most useful for its refreshingly cerebral analysis, unmarred by human ulterior motives or opinions.
One of the more glaring concerns I see with ChatGPT currently is the opportunity it provides for plagiarism. Just like Stan and his friends in the fictional world of “South Park,” we are now all faced with the temptation to use ChatGPT to create in-depth responses and pass them off as our own. In my experience, it’s fairly easy to identify when this is happening, especially when someone’s newfound analytical and literary skill is incongruent with their personality and oral communication style.
I graduated from Quincy University with a bachelor of arts in English literature in 2011, well before the birth of ChatGPT. Those thesis-driven, strictly third person-perspective, 300 level Shakespeare essays on Brutus’s stoicism were the stuff of blood, sweat and tears. I paid my dues.
It would violate my personal code of ethics to have ChatGPT write something for me. Moreover, ChatGPT lacks the creative spark inherent in humanity. Its lack of opinions and motivations, likes and dislikes, render it unable to creatively reference “Star Wars” as a metaphorical literary device. It can craft human-like love notes and surprisingly analytical responses, but it’s unable to venture into the more abstract creativity that makes humanity so special.
It could never be me.
As humanity steps into the first light of the dawn of AI, the most appropriate attitude to adopt is one of acceptance and curiosity rather than fear and rejection. AI is here to stay. Rejecting AI is akin to rejecting the internet. Its potential has only begun to be explored.
As future creative thinkers, as visionaries, we can all learn a lesson from Stan and his friends. There’s no substitute for authenticity. AI can’t replace the human spirit of creation and innovation — at least not yet.
As much as I adore Stan and his friends, it seems best that we adopt the “Star Wars” model and reject the “South Park” model.
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