I’ve just tried out CHATGPT!

If you read yesterday’s Brimmings, you know about the challenge ChatGPT represents across many fronts, how it’s already impacting daily life, and how it may affect your future. Taking the Internet by storm, it now has 100 million subscribers. Rumors abound that Microsoft will soon invest $10bn in openchat GPT.

Like many, I sensed from the outset that ChatGPT would pose a threat in the classroom, encouraging lazy minds to take shortcuts in completing assignments. In the past, educators had tech apps capable of monitoring suspected plagiarism. I’ve used them effectively in my own college teaching. At the moment, that’s old school. We really don’t have a deterrent these days, say many educators with the onset of ChatGPT.

Now comes breaking news that the New York City Board of Education has banned ChatGPT from department devices or Internet networks.

But is this much touted new tech really the threat many say it is? I decided to find out for myself by trying out the software. I have to caution you that the money vultures are out there in abundance, so guard your wallet. Through much effort, I did find a site that’s free. And bonus, easy to use.

Since I was a college English prof till my retirement, it seemed appropriate to begin with asking in the topic box why I should read George Eliot’s Middlemarch. The response came within seconds:

Sure, I can help you write an essay on why to read Middlemarch. Middlemarch, written by George Eliot and first published in 1871-72, is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel follows many characters in a small English town called Middlemarch and explores how their lives intersect and their stories become intertwined. It has been praised for its complex characters and intricate plot structure, which allow for a deep exploration of themes such as morality, beauty, power, and corruption. In addition, Middlemarch is also known for its sharp and witty social commentary as well as its profound analysis of human nature. It is a must-read for anyone interested in literature or wanting to gain a better insight into humanity. Reading Middlemarch will allow readers to explore a wide range of topics, such as faith, love, politics, and ambition. It will provide a new perspective and understanding of the human experience, and its timelessness allows it to remain relevant today. Whether you are an avid reader or someone looking to start their journey with literature, Middlemarch is sure to be a rewarding experience that will leave you richer in understanding and appreciation.

Not bad, but not really good enough, consisting of several generalizations, when what we need is flesh on the bones. In short, more specifics.

Thinking maybe “the intricate plot” bit might warrant more development and a topic in itself, I then asked ChatGPT to discuss the novel’s complex plot structure . Dutifully, I got this immediate response:

In George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, plot complexity is paramount. The intertwining of multiple stories and the multiple points of view create a complex web of relationships, tensions, and conflicts that make the novel an interesting and engaging read.

The novel focuses on the lives of the inhabitants of a small English town, Middlemarch, and centers on the developing relationship between Dorothea Brooks and Edward Casaubon. The complexity of their relationship is what drives much of the narrative as we see them struggle to reconcile their different social backgrounds and personal goals. The characters in the novel also have their own individual stories that contribute to the overall complexity of the plot: Rosamund Vincy’s thwarted romance, Fred Vincy’s moral dilemmas, Will Ladislaw’s struggles with identity and Lydgate’s prideful quest for professional success. All of these threads intertwine and eventually come to a head in the denouement of the novel.

Eliot uses her characters’ struggles to explore the complexities of human emotions and relationships, showing how seemingly small decisions can lead to large consequences. She creates a narrative that is both intricate and believable, where characters must confront difficult moral choices and grapple with their own flaws. Through this, Eliot is able to convey a powerful message while also creating an engaging story that readers can connect to.

Overall, Eliot’s use of plot complexity in Middlemarch makes it an enthralling read that is sure to captivate readers. By combining a variety of characters and storylines, she creates a narrative that is both complex and believable, ultimately making it an unforgettable read.

Obviously, this is more specific to what I asked, though still requiring development. A good student will resort to an appropriate database for further yield, perhaps along the lines of character comparison and contrast.

At this juncture, I don’t see ChatGPT as a horrendous menace in academia.  You may remember that google search was viewed similarly when it initially made its appearance.  Now we see it as a tool.  I view ChatGPT likewise.

Students utilizing ChatGPT will still need to document their sources properly.  Plagiarists will still get caught, lacking the voice element that normally identifies their writing.  A good many students, sadly, can’t even formulate a proper sentence, develop a thesis governed by coherence, etc.  Sudden perfection?   Hey, not happening!

There’s also the deterrent of expense.  Many of these bots require an annual fee up to $100 annually or $8.00 weekly. Some charge per word.

ChatGPT can be humorously silly in its results. In one scenario, I asked for specifics on myself.  I got back that I was founder and CEO of an international software company located in Montreal.

What I dislike is the mindset that’s too commonly out there, the proclivity to taking the shortcut rather than rolling up the sleeves to do the necessary research consolidating the thesis.  As one student tweeted:  “Wow ChatGPT just wrote a 20 paragraph final essay for me. Now I don’t have to watch the 2 hour movie and write the essay myself.”

More than ever, we need minds able to weigh the best ideas in the agora of open debate as we confront challenges to human survival itself.  There aren’t any shortcuts to this end.  Recent findings on neuroplasticity inform us that consequent with learning, experience and memory formation, new neural pathways get strengthened, whereas those infrequently used wither and die (simplypsychology.org).  The  brain, just like the body, requires exercise.

The good life is that of assertion, not passivity, of doing and becoming, fundamental to our  achieving identity and, with it, purpose and happiness.  There are no shortcuts.


A Brave New World: The AI Invasion

It seems everywhere now and every day its capabilities grow exponentially. Were it science fiction, we could suspend disbelief, but no, it’s brick and mortar of today’s living space, architect of our present and, like a Mars landing spaceship, crewed by humans, powering us into new frontiers beyond the limits of imagination.

We call it Artificial Intelligence, or AI, the subset of machine learning algorithms. Prototyping the human brain, AI maps our cognitive processes, enabling a computer, computer controlled robot, or software entity to think like you and me.

AI’s prowess dwarfs the best human minds and, daily, it grows smarter still.

In 1997, the IBM computer Deep Blue defeated the world’s champion chess player.

Today, we take for granted speech recognition, robotic process automation, video surveillance, facial recognition, and what we call smart homes. It lies behind your smartphone’s Siri, or Amazon’s ability to track your consumer choices, or Google Search, speeding you to your targeted page among an electronic galaxy of several billion websites, all in micro seconds.

How many of us know that AI was instrumental in developing the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine, its algorithm capable of predicting the RNA sequence of the virus in a mere 27 seconds, or 120 times faster than previous methods?

Currently, AI machines are servile to our needs. They’re singular in their applications, their memory subject to our input. This may not always be so in our future, which may have already begun.

What’s coming is an AI that comprehends thoughts and emotions and can interact socially, AI machines, not only intelligent, but sentient and conscious.

They’ll soon earmark the new economy, with 9% of all new jobs being in the AI machine learning, and automation realm. Most AI engineer jobs currently average an annual median salary of $131,490, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a scenario none of us will escape. In a recent New York Times interview, entrepreneur Elon Musk predicted artificial intelligence or robots would assume most human jobs in the next five years.

Fortune Magazine extends that time element to 15 years, with 40% of our current jobs being replaced by AI robots.

Custom service reps are already being replaced by FAQs to answer queries.

Bookkeeping and data entry, relics of a bygone era, have been replaced by AI and machine learning.

Going and gone are receptionists in hotels, with automatic check-ins and checkouts the order of the day.

Fast food chains will increasingly move to automated service. You push the tab, a robot fills your order, and that includes the packaging. An automatic McDonalds opened near Fort Worth, Texas, recently.

In publishing, proofreaders will become an extinct species. What with apps like Grammarly, who needs them?

Drones and robots will transform delivery services.

Shopping malls, a once ubiquitous landscape feature, are already closing doors as retail moves online, staffs are cut, orders computerized, and consumer preferences anticipated. We already know what Amazon has done to bookshops.

Taxi and bus drivers will increasingly vanish as transportation gets automated. The Los Angeles Times says that self-driving trucks could replace 1.7 million American truckers over the next ten years. What you see in the automatic transit systems of our larger airports will become standard fare.

Think medicine’s safe from AI’s inroads? Think again! Radiologists will be an endangered species, given AI’s superior ability to read images. “AI can see things the human eye can’t,” says Eric Topol of Scripps Research.

Diagnostic selfies are on the way. Never mind the dermatologist. Your app will spot any skin cancer.

Tomorrow’s economy will be powered increasingly by fewer workers as automation, fueled by AI, takes hold. The economic fallout promises to be staggering, resulting in heightened inequity and its consequent disruption of the loop of productivity, rising wages, and increased consumerism. In fact, it’s already happening, with just 5% of households responsible for 40% of spending.

Society will need restructuring, urgently so, to preempt social breakdown as the plural weight of an aging population, rising costs for education and medicine, depletion of natural resources and climate change exercise their grip.

Where is all of this taking us? Are we about to create a Frankenstein monster? Is AI destined to become sentient and even more so than ourselves?

I’m not there yet. Sentient shouldn’t be used lightly. It deals with sensory apprehension. It can be argued that some animals have this capacity.

AI, however, remains a logic construct. While it can assess our syllogistic reasoning for its fallacies, it can’t attribute emotion, the collective consequence of sensory interchange via a robust neural network, to its surveillance.

But that doesn’t dissipate the threat that AI may ultimately become too damn smart for our own good! Isaac Asimov posed the threat acutely in his 1956 short story, The Last Question, with humans creating Multilac, a super intelligent machine that ultimately subverts human control and subsumes every aspect of existence.

The creation of maverick Elon Musk’s OpenAI GPT-3 is getting a lot of hype as the best we’ve seen imitating human intelligence, if not the largest artificial neural network ever created. This is the third version to date.

Educators are in consternation over ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence bot offshoot of GPT-3, released in November 2022, with already more than a million users and currently free. ChatGPT exhibits extraordinary finesse at mirroring creative capacities of our finest human minds, despite infinitely lacking the human brain’s 100 trillion-plus synapses. Feed a few inquiries into the topic box and it spews out answers, can write an essay, summarize a report, translate languages, even compose a poem—all in seconds.

If English teachers thought Cliff Notes a bane, God help them now. As for universities, the academic integrity of your traditional thesis and dissertation is at stake. It isn’t a perfect technology. It can give silly results, but it may get better.

The bottomline is that if sentient machines are ultimately coming our way, it behooves us to inaugurate an ethical framework for their governance. As Yuval Harari warns, “Netflix tells us what to watch and Amazon tells us what to buy. Eventually within 10 or 20 or 30 years such algorithms could also tell you what to study at college and where to work and whom to marry and even whom to vote for.”

Meanwhile, high tech continues promoting machine learning to enhance profitability over public welfare. It’s a brave new world!


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