Last weekend was our company’s annual offsite, and one of the virtual speakers was the Chief Digital Officer of Atlantic Communications who discussed the challenges that lay ahead for media companies. He was an entertaining speaker but had only cliches to offer. And we clapped politely, if reservedly. That was when the session leader told us that the speaker was entirely fake, generated by ChatGPT.
That brief interaction lies at the crux of this new phenomenon. That it simulates reality with a frightening degree of accuracy but it is not real in some fundamental ways.
Experts say that ChatGPT will soon replace teachers, writers, journalists, financial planners, and so on. Now here is the thing—a poem generated by ChatGPT might even be better than a real poem because it takes the best of all available poetry humanity has generated to arrive at its result. But this “better” poem will come from a fake human and express fake anger or sorrow. And that is where the grievous loss will be. Will we see that loss for what it is? Or, like that man in Japan who fell deeply in love with his robot girlfriend, will we too become besotted with this perfect fake world where nobody hurts us, where we never flunk a test or write a wrong brief?
These are the questions that are going to haunt us as technology gets increasingly better at replacing the human brain. As human assistants, AI tools will be enormously helpful. We will soon be as comfortable asking a bot to perform a surgery as we are today buying a dress online.
What should worry us is this: Will AI make all human labour, both physical and mental, redundant? If so, what will continue to motivate us? Get us out of bed each morning? Once our brains are mush, will we get our kicks from more violence and hate? Or will we become happy lotus eaters? Fiction has long grappled with some of these questions, now reality’s turn has come. I leave you to mull over the answers.
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