ChatGPT Thread

“ChatGPT is a development on par with the printing press, electricity and even the wheel and fire.”

That’s according to Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration. I had heard about ChatGPT before, but I knew nothing about it. (Actually, when I listened to Summers, it sounds like he’s referring more broadly to the ability of AI to think and express itself like humans.)

Here’s what I learned from an NYT article.

“In ChatGPT’s case, it read a lot. And, with some guidance from its creators, it learned how to write coherently — or, at least, statistically predict what good writing should look like.”

Some benefits:

“It can help research and write essays and articles. ChatGPT can also help code programs, automating challenges that can normally take hours for people. Another example comes from a different program, Consensus. This bot combs through up to millions of scientific papers to find the most relevant for a given search and share their major findings. A task that would take a journalist like me days or weeks is done in a couple minutes.”

The benefits here are obvious, but, off the top of my head, here are some drawbacks:

  • For humans, the ability to comb through lots of information and find the most relevant information could deteriorate.
  • My sense is that different people make different judgments about what is relevant; the ability to do this, which includes making connections with other information, including seemingly unrelated information, can differ significantly from person to person. Will this capability become more uniform if done by an AI?
  • My sense is that this process can lead to important insights. How will AI impact that?

In a survey, a group of scientists who work on machine learning had even more dire response:

Nearly half said there was a 10 percent or greater chance that the outcome would be “extremely bad (e.g., human extinction).” These are people saying that their life’s work could destroy humanity.

This seems like a big problem, one that that seems blatantly foolish:

“The problem, as A.I. researchers acknowledge, is that no one fully understands how this technology works, making it difficult to control for all possible behaviors and risks. Yet it is already available for public use.”

To go ahead with something that we don’t fully understand, but could pose an existential threat to humanity (albeit a relatively small probability) seems foolish. And how can we accurately assess the risk if we don’t fully understand how the technology works?

5 thoughts on “ChatGPT Thread

  1. This Atlantic article–“The End of High School English”–written by a high school English teacher–has a more grim assessment of the effects on GPT, at least as it pertains to writing in schools–and maybe writing in gene

    In a nutshell, when students inevitably get access to GPT, they’ll be able to use it to create essays. Teachers won’t be able to know if the student or GPT did the work.

    I share the teacher’s grim view, and I’ll explain that by responding to section of the piece:

    Many teachers have reacted to ChatGPT by imagining how to give writing assignments now—maybe they should be written out by hand, or given only in class—but that seems to me shortsighted. The question isn’t “How will we get around this?” but rather “Is this still worth doing?”

    My knee-jerk reaction: It is absolutely worth doing. Not only that, it’s essential. To me, learning to write well is the same thing as learning to think way. Indeed, I’m not sure it’s possible to be able to think well without being able to write well. ( That’s probably going too far.)

    Knowledge, understanding, and insight are things created. For an individual to develop substantive knowledge and understanding, the individual has process and create this themselves. I don’t know mean that each person has to create knowledge and understanding from a blank slate. Instead, they must digest and build up the knowledge in a way that makes sense to the individual.

    To me, writing is the key tool for doing this. I have a hard time imagining anything that can adequately replace this.

    1. I liked hearing about the side benefits of hand-written essays.

      Right now, I would not want to write by hand. It takes too long, and it would be more of a mess for me. I wonder if this could mean the comeback for typewriters…or some word processor….basically a computer type of device that is not connected to the internet.

      1. Required hand-written essays will skew the playing field even more for many students with language-based learning differences, but if certain accommodations can be made (and available to all, whether diagnosed or not) it could work.

        I blue-booked almost every English exam I ever had and while it was laborious, I managed okay.

    2. I blue-booked almost every English exam I ever had and while it was laborious, I managed okay.

      But writing long-hand was more common and frequent back in our day. Even though I grew up up writing a lot in long-hand, I now dislike writing in long-hand, especially for longer periods of time. I can imagine this would be difficult for students now.

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