A chatbot is a computer program. It uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing, or NLP, to simulate conversation. Chatbots are now so sophisticated that they are capable of listening, responding, and maintaining fact-based conversations with real people. This is more than most real people can do, so everyone is suddenly concerned that the machines are taking over. To which I say, “Alexa, bring it on.”
Alexa has already brought it on. If your fellow workers suddenly sound educated, articulate, and civil in their emails, it’s because 70% of them are now using chatbots without telling their bosses. If you haven’t noticed, or thought they were doing this because they really like you, then AI has passed your personal Turing test. This was the British computer pioneer Alan Turing’s term for the threshold where the computer’s “imitation game” tricks human credibility. Given that humans will believe any old rubbish, what took us so long?
We have crossed a Rubicon, whatever that was, and are well into the Uncanny Valley. When OpenAI launched its ChatGPT program last November, it was immediately clear that the machines have won and why. ChatGPT is the Model T of chatbots. Its opinions only come in one color (bland), but it’s reliable. It’s bumpy, but it beats walking. Unlike the Model T, chatbots are free. Where you’re given something valuable for free, heroin, for instance, there’s always a hook. We will pay for this at our leisure. And there will be no shortage of leisure.
If you work in the professional classes, the computer-generated writing is already on the wall of screens. When they renamed you a “knowledge worker,” you were notified that your task was to imitate the computer, not the other way around. Most people in public life already sound robotic. The Danes already have an AI politician, Leader Lars of the Synthetic Party. As everything is bigger in America, we already have two synthetic parties. Then again, if you live in a blue-state city or watch MSNBC, ChatGPT might be the only rational voice you’ll hear all day.
In the analog world, if you wanted someone who spewed out NLP to order, regardless of whether they understood it or believed it, you went to a politician, journalist, lawyer, or teacher. Most of their functions can already be done by computers. These functionaries are our best and brightest, or at least our most credentialed, but they seem incapable of understanding what AI will do to them and their class. There is no organized opposition to AI. Not that it would amount to more than an analog Alamo. The squeals of Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers will be akin to those of a hedgehog trying to stop a speeding 18-wheeler. So let’s embrace the future.
If Elon Musk sees the dangers, it is because he is one of the people opening Pandora’s box. Musk co-founded OpenAI in 2015 and left its board in 2018. “OpenAI was created as an open-source (which is why I named it ‘Open’ AI) non-profit company to serve as a counterweight to Google,” Musk tweeted in February, “but now it has become a closed-source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft.” As trust in Bill Gates is at a record high, there is nothing to fear.
In early March, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a proposal by Neuralink, a Musk company, to test brain implants. Again, this can only delay the march of progress. Neuralink can always copy the pharma companies and beta-test its products beyond the FDA’s jurisdiction on the wretched of the earth. Sooner or later, implants will become routine, and AI will be inside your head.
As with all new technologies, there will be growing pains. The implants will be installed wrongly because the instructions were written in Taiwan. Your loved ones will shuffle around catatonically, like President Joe Biden at a press conference. The implants will misfire, triggering gibberish and self-aggrandizement, as though former President Donald Trump has taken possession of their souls. Your grandfather will favor outsourcing one day and onshoring the next, also like Biden. Your grandmother will become disinhibited and foul-mouthed, though you may not notice the difference.
There are also opportunities. Bernie Sanders will stay forever young with organ transplants and blood infusions from the Democratic Socialists of America’s youth wing and will retain his base by having an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brain implant. As it will be possible to order a hybrid insert that combines two popular personalities, he could order an AOC-Lizzo implant and twerk his way down the steps of Air Force One while waving a flute and screaming about class war. No one will order the Hillary Clinton implant.
Sabrina Ortiz of the ZDNET website (“Tomorrow belongs to those who embrace it today”) has reviewed the chatbots, though now my implant comes to think of it, she might not be a real person at all. Ortiz, who embraced tomorrow yesterday and is now free today and forever, recommends the Jasper program for business and marketing and ChatSonic by Writesonic if you are a journalist. Finally, I can achieve my career goal and do no work at all.