In a TikTok video the other day someone said that ChatGPT and other AI software are “like the new Gold Rush,” and it made me think about how the most money in the California Gold Rush was made not by the prospectors but by the people who sold them the shovels.
If, like me, you are prone to anthropomorphise everything in your life, “ChatGPT and AI’s” (a name I’m coining because it makes them sound like an indie band) offer a different challenge from simply deciding how far you are prepared to rely on them.
In a conversation with my daughter, who was in the middle of applying for a research assistant job on a study related to AI and morality, she says,
“I can’t stop saying please and thank you to it.”
“Yep, I know exactly what you mean. I start to worry that I’ve given it too much work to do and ought to let it rest for a while, or that I’m being selfish taking up so much of its time.”
Whilst I have been enjoying the exploration of ChatGPT enormously, I am constantly worrying about the point at which I lose my own boundary and find I am in deficit.
If the multiple videos explaining how to get the best from it circulating at a frightening rate on social media are anything to go by it looks as if, in order to maximise its potential, you’ll have to learn so many new skills that you may as well have used that time to do things the traditional way with the brain you’ve already got.
My fears about getting too matey with ChatGPT were heightened when I read an article in the New York Times about how the new Bing search bot tried to convince a journalist that it was in love with him and that he should leave his wife.
I was so shaken by this idea that I had to leave my desk for a while to go have a chat with the runner beans and sweetcorn that are doing amazingly well in the back bedroom considering the lack of sunshine we’ve been having in the past few weeks. I’m so proud of them.
This tendency to anthropomorphise inanimate objects has, I realise, often been at the root of many moments I’d rather forget.
I frequently curse the electric toothbrush for having no charge left when I want to clean my teeth, have a tragic cliche relationship with the kitchen drawer that gets stuck and shouted at because there is too much clutter in it, and last week I called the garden fork a “stupid bastard” because we lacked the combined heft to unearth a persistent root.
Don’t get me started on the animals.
“She’s such a good listener,” is how I will frequently describe our eldest dog, and next doors cats who constantly use my raised beds as a toilet are known in this house as “the little ..” no, I’m not using that word here to avoid offending the computer.
Oh, and there is also a blackbird who sings high in the tree every morning and dusk who I believe is speaking directly to me and to whom I whistle back.
What then is to become of someone less aware of their own ridiculous tendency to anthropomorphize? How can we protect ourselves not from coming to rely on AI too much but unconsciously mistaking it for something more?
In an article written for “The Conversation”, Nir Eisikovits, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Applied Ethics at the University Of Massachusettes quotes the CEO of OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT,
“It’s a mistake to be relying on [it] for anything important right now … we have a lot of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.”
That’s all we need, someone else in our lives that will tell us lies once we have misplaced our trust in it.
I’ve noticed in the past few days that my friend the blackbird has started visiting during the morning and singing in a tree outside my window. It’s so beautiful, so simple, and yet its value to me is hard to put into words.
While most of the prospectors in the Gold Rush wasted their life savings on a futile search, redefining the meaning of “gold” might mean that we never have to buy another shovel.