ChatGPT is dangerous – but not the way you think

There’s a reason the term is ‘artificial intelligence’, not ‘artificial sensitivity’ or ‘artificial personality’. Intelligence is the easiest human attribute to copy and surpass. Spending time playing with the ChatGPT chatbot clarifies the difference and why it matters.

Some worry that bad actors are using apps like ChatGPT to effectively create misinformation or mashups of discredited conspiracy theories. Others look at the remarkable ease of the free app, introduced in November, and fear a near future where it is indistinguishable from a human, passing the Turing test and heralding the “singularity” of countless stories of science fiction.

No less than Elon Musk alluded to in a tweet, “ChatGPT is scary. We’re not far from dangerously powerful AI. But Musk, like Silicon Valley’s least popular billionaire Peter Thiel, has co-founded OpenAI, which developed and owns ChatGPT.

None of these threats is a great danger, for the same reason something else is: the possible proliferation of unwanted prose without the sense of a narrator – a personality or sensibility – behind it. If we start feeding them to our little ones, it will have far worse consequences than a diet of potato chips and soda.

Ironically, and fortunately, AIs will force us to unpack what’s special about human storytelling.

Right now my cats have more personality than ChatGPT, probably because being embodied and subject to pain and pleasure creates what we perceive as even a basic personality. The app can write music, lyrics and code, but not distinctive English.

Elon Musk called ChatGPT “well scary” and warned about the future of artificial intelligence.
AP Photo/Benjamin Fanjoy, File

ChatGPT prose is like a stage set: windows to nothing, inch-thick walls. Experimenting with the app suggests there is none out there.

Reading a good writer, or sometimes a bad one, you sense a personality behind the words, even in an essay on a scientific question. This goes to the heart of reading.

When asked why they read fiction, people often answer: “To relax.” More thoughtful types can add “and to experience life from other perspectives”. What we overlook and never name is what makes these things possible: the felt presence of another being behind the narrative. Until now, there was little reason to think that this being would not be human.

We humans need to spend hours a day with our species to thrive, and certain books, read at certain times, can give us that experience more effectively than being with our families or friends. This is what makes the book a balm against loneliness and part of a human education. Every hour spent reading is an hour spent, if not necessarily in good company, practicing responsiveness to others, learning to hear rhythm and text and subtext.

Reading is not the only way to acculturate, but it is a very effective way. This is one of the reasons why early reading programs are a key intervention in poor communities – and why over-programming children with organized activities doesn’t necessarily produce smarter or more humane adults. They better read. As long as a human wrote what he read.

We feel the personal presence in the driest nonfiction, where even lukewarm phrases like “We mustn’t forget” or “It’s a misunderstanding” remind us that emotions are at play. The passionate essayists, of course , use very different and urgent language – AI hate speech doesn’t compare.

The individual nature of the narrative should be evident. Writers have mannerisms and style signatures that identify their prose (and catch plagiarists). These idiosyncrasies are nothing less than their life stories.

Start with a writer’s parents, birthplace, childhood. Someone might have absorbed the Ciceronian cadences in high school Latin or the rhythms of childhood church gospel preaching or both. Add a teacher who insisted on minimal adjectives, a friend who was a Shakespearean actor. Finally, the mood of the writer that day.

The threat of ChatGPT is that AI writing may become too common.
The threat of ChatGPT is that AI writing may become too common.
Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

How would you tell ChatGPT to mimic this set of unpredictable interactions? The story has shaped the personality of the writer over the years. AI-generated prose lacks it; it’s like expecting to make a 12-year-old Pomerol overnight.

The app is good at mimicking styles – a high-probability word combination – and it will get better. It will look more and more like whatever you ask him to imitate, whether it’s Borat or the King James Bible. But it won’t look like the self it doesn’t have.

The good thing is that the singularity and the worries that come with it are not close at all. Some say it’s only a matter of time. But a transcendent personality, with the layers of influences that make an engaging storyteller, isn’t going to emerge from more and more repetitions of a search function any more than wine will come out of it when you cut a grape into pieces. . It’s an entirely different thing.

The dark specter for now is the threat of streams of nearly gratuitous junk prose, the equivalent of industrial or fad junk food but cheaper. A few hundred years ago in the West, everyone wore hand-spun fabrics and hand-sewn clothes. Now only the super-rich do it. Will our society embrace AI-generated prose as the literary equivalent of mass fast fashion, a cheap substitute that everyone occasionally uses? Will we come to consider human prose as a luxury like haute couture clothes?

This will have serious consequences not only for the already precarious incomes of human writers, but also for the education of young humans, who will not read much for pleasure – or produce the same.

Ann Marlowe is a journalist and researcher in New York and author of two memoirs.


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