Humanity In The AI Age
How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?
This is the question asked by two scientists to an extremely powerful computer known as Multivac in one of my favorite short stories, “The Last Question,” by Isaac Asimov.
In the year 2061, after Multivac has aided humanity in harnessing the sun’s energy to power the globe, two scientists figure that a computer with such a considerable amount of processing power would be able to now answer more hypothetical questions. As a joke, they ask the question about net entropy to the computer. It’s response: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER. The story progresses through the millennia with more advanced humans asking more advanced versions of the computer the same question. Each time, it responds the same: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.
I asked Chat GPT the same question. It gave me a rather intelligent answer within about ten seconds. However, the content of the answer is unimportant to me. I’m more interested in the questions we ask Chat GPT and artificial intelligence, and how we should approach technology powerful enough to actually give us the answer.
Chat GPT has already astonished the world with its capabilities and language learning model based responses. With the recent announcement of GPT-4, Open AI, the company behind Chat GPT, demonstrated how the software has already advanced; it can now interact with image inputs and produce photographic content based on text instructions. The world has had mixed reactions. Some think the technology is revolutionary and will aid in every industry, from education, to research and even art. Others are wary about the new technology. They think that Chat GPT and artificial intelligence will replace human workers and make many employees and industries obsolete. But I don’t think this should be our concern.
Machinery replacing jobs has been a fear stretching back centuries. In 1589, an inventor named William Lee created a device called the stocking frame knitting machine; a device that could single handedly do the work of multiple people. Queen Elizabeth I “foresaw” the perils of automating work and remarked, “I have too much love for my poor people who obtain their bread by the employment of knitting to give my money to forward an invention that will tend to their ruin by depriving them of employment and thus making them beggars.” Similarly, in the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes stated, “There are so many new inventions indicating displacement of labor that technological unemployment may be an even more serious problem in the near future than it is now.”
However, the opportunities presented by Chat GPT are of a different kind altogether. Unlike machines of the past, this is an intellectual, thinking machine. Vasant Dhar, a data scientist and professor at NYU noted, “This is not the same as last time, not the same as previous kinds of technology that changed the nature of work.”
The technology is profound; however, currently, people are still too limited with the use of Chat GPT. All across the internet, people are promoting “hacks” for how to properly utilize Chat GPT to create a business, how to write email prompts to network, generate content for a website and advertise a product. Within our university and virtually every school nationwide, people are using it as a writing assistant to write essays, generate homework solutions and provide quick answers to easy questions that would have formerly taken in depth reading of articles suggested by a Google search. We are asking Chat GPT for help with the monotonous tasks we would rather not do and are missing the mark on the true depths to which we should be utilizing artificial intelligence.
I’m not an expert in artificial intelligence by any means. I’m not sure how Chat GPT generates responses to its questions and what the underlying mechanisms are in its “neural pathways.” But I do know that this technological revolution is different from the industrial revolutions of the past. As Professor Dhar said, these are thinking machines.
It is in this regard that I am wary about AI’s implications for humanity. Thought, reasoning and logic — these are the capacities that set humanity apart from animals and machines. The ability to be presented with a problem and cull our experiences, education, social interactions and life knowledge into a formulated answer is a human skill. This process deepens our intellect by prompting us to build our minds through learning and grow as deeper thinking individuals.
Artificial intelligence is a teacher that possesses the widest breadth of knowledge and the ability to communicate it personably. It can answer questions about our existence, happiness, purpose driven living, amongst many other philosophical queries people have had in the past. By combing through humanity’s thoughts on these issues from thousands of years of our greatest thinkers, we can learn how to live overall better lives. However, this shouldn’t replace our own diligent foray into the world of higher reasoning. Artificial intelligence can be useful in introducing us to topics or providing quick solutions to problems we are faced with but it should by no means be a replacement for thought.
We might not be concerned with the amount of net entropy in the universe like Asimov’s characters were. But I’m sure there are questions we feel passionate about that we previously wouldn’t have looked up due to our fear of undertaking some scholarly article or the commitment to reading an entire book. Chat GPT and AI can do the heavy lifting for us and introduce us to these topics in a simplified way. But that’s all it should be to the thinking individual. We should still investigate further beyond our initial Chat GPT prompt. We should ask follow up questions, read longer works on the questions that bother us and never wholly divert our faculty of intellect and reasoning to a machine. It is thought that makes us human and in the incumbent age of the thinking machine it is the faculty we must cherish the most.
Photo Caption: Visualization of AI
Photo Credit: Wallpaper Flare