Remember the good ol’ Postmodernism Generator? It was in vogue in the early 2000s, especially among nerds, geeks, technophiles and dilettante philosophers. The funny program was written by an Australian coder called Andrew C. Bulhak, and was built on Dada Engine, a computing system that was capable of creating random text using what techies would call “Recursive Transition Networks”.
Sample this slice from an ‘academic paper’ (We want you to read this aloud).
“Reading Bataille: Conceptual precultural theory in the works of Gibson.” By Linda P. von Junz, Department of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
1. Contexts of meaninglessness
The primary theme of the works of Gibson is a self-referential totality. It could be said that any number of discourses concerning conceptual precultural theory exist. Derrida suggests the use of subcapitalist theory to deconstruct Capitalism. “Sexual identity is fundamentally impossible,” says Sartre; however, according to Porter, it is not so much sexual identity that is fundamentally impossible, but rather the futility, and eventually the genre, of sexual identity.
This is bullshit powered by intellectual gobbledygook. Every word in this passage is fake and was framed by the algorithm. And, more importantly, everyone knew this was fake. It was fun.
Cut to 2023. The world is wowed by ChatGPT, a text-generator powered by GPT-3, a “large language model”. But this time, it’s serious business. The text generator is way more advanced, and it can create text of all hues — from fiction to fact to code and more.
But the fact remains that much of what is generated by ChatGPT or similar “search, scan and paraphrase” programs remains in the realm of what computer scientist Arvind Narayanan terms “bullshit”. Narayanan anchors his remark on the definition philosopher Harry Frankfurt has given to bullshit — speech intended to persuade without regard for the truth.
Still, there is a lot of confusion around the potential of programs like ChatGPT and how they can contribute to the greater common good. In this exhaustive, insightful and unputdownable essay, Eshwar Sundaresan helps you cut through the clutter and see the perils and potential of ChatGPT in particular and its parent-tech, generative artificial intelligence, in general.