Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Chatbot Menace

CC Jean Stimmell: 2016

Artificial Intelligence, in the form of large-scale language models like ChatGPT, is causing some to say the sky is falling. My biggest concern is that they will degrade what is truly unique about us.

Teachers are already worried, like Jane Leibbrand, a former teacher and English instructor, who warns us that almost all students will soon be using chatbots to write their essays.  Programs like ChatGPT will be just too much of a temptation.

Leibbrand sees this rollout of AI to be a step backward: “ChatGPT might be the reverse of what ink and papyrus and the Gutenberg printing press meant to the world. Those inventions disseminated original and critical thinking and spurred the creation of new technologies, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution….Now, ChatGPT makes it too easy not to think.”⁠1

She argues that if we don’t engage our minds by putting together facts into coherent arguments, we will lose our ability to think critically using written language. She asserts this “likely will have deleterious effects on our brains and, ultimately, civilization.”⁠2

I am sympathetic to that argument.

Often, when I start to write, I'm not sure how I feel or what I want to say. However, by the concrete act of laying down words, I process my feelings while magically organizing my random thoughts into a more comprehensive whole. Through this physical process, I birth something unique to me.

Writing gives me a sense of ownership, helping to establish who I am. I will not hand over this task to an artificial AI bot like Bing, Sidney, or ChatbotGPT.

 If I did so, I would lose my connection to what gives meaning in my life: The actual, flesh-and-blood people in my extended community, whom I know personally or through their writing or art. Sacasas, in his thought-provoking newsletter The Convivial Society, tells us why: He reminds us that we are "social creatures, who desire to know and be known in the context of meaningful human relationships, ideally built on trust and mutual respect."⁠3 

It’s the essence of who we are!

But our gregarious social nature is increasingly imperiled by how the impersonal forces of  modern society rip us from our roots, sterilize us in suburbia, and addict us to electronic squiggles on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok – removing us from our former alive, brick and mortar communities.

The resulting social isolation has steeped us in a blanket of loneliness, which I believe is at the root of many of our current social ills. Chatbots are only making it worse, taking it upon themselves to become our trusted companions to tell us what to think.

Sacasas has come up with what he calls a radical solution: “I remain foolishly committed to the idea that our best hope lies still in the cultivation of friendship and community through the practice of hospitality.”

To restore hospitality, as I have written before, we must resurrect our ability to really listen to others: That's how trust and mutual respect are built. Not surprisingly, it's also the most crucial element of psychotherapy. It was always a joy of mine to watch a patient open up and bloom from only being attended to in a genuine manner.

Salassa quotes the social critic Ivan Illich who says hospitality not only generates “seedbeds for virtue and friendship” but also radiates out for the”rebirth of community.” Something we so desperately need today.

It's pivotal to our future that we fall in love again with how special we humans are. One way we celebrate our specialness is through great art and literature. But AI will try to steal that away, too: That's because chatbots will soon, if not already, be able to create masterpieces similar to those created by writers and artists.

This will be possible because repetition is a cornerstone for producing art. As Vivian Lam has written in Wire Magazine: "reduced to its most elemental form, all art asks for is variations of the same fundamental questions." She argues, as I do, that the central question is not "whether AI can replace human creativity, but whether viewers will value the artist.”⁠4

That brings us back to why it is crucial to celebrate our human values. At this juncture, it's an open question: Will we support and buy from real flesh-and-blood artists who live in a real physical place and have an actual biography? Or will we buy from a cold-blooded machine that doesn't give a damn about either you or me?



2 Ibid.



1 comment:

Lisa said...

Beautiful ideas and thoughts, ones we can only hope and pray can find their way forward.