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Chatgpt Will Change Everything For The Better, After We Figure Out How
A story of human obsolescence and human optimism
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Abel, a young university student and the protagonist of our story, had just sat through introductions in a class he had only a small interest in attending, Understanding Media. He took note of where the most beautiful of his peers were seated as if he were surveying the openings on a chessboard, he formed a plan of attack that would get at least one of them to the altar and in time the maternity ward, and then abandoned the thought altogether when the professor, a seventy year old man with a full head of white hair, began speaking.
“Today in the year 2030, eight years after the public release of the first large language model chatbots and text-to-video AI platforms, Hollywood, Netflix, HBO, Disney+, and other online entertainment giants have entered a phase of rapid obsolescence.”
Professors, as I’ve seen in my experience, are sometimes far removed from any of the general ideas associated with their meek title, as this one was. His voice boomed and rushed around the hall like imperious waves, and it was enough to carry Abel from slight interest to full participation.
“Around the year 2027,” the professor continued, “machine learning engineers with an interest in visual media began founding companies employing AI to write Oscar-level dramas, comedies, thrillers, and other genres, and turn these scripts into full length features and multi-season tv productions with machine generated imagery. Does anyone have a guess for how this new technology disrupted the entertainment industry?” the professor asked.
“I just read an essay about this, I couldn’t get through it all because the author had some clear industry bias,” Abel said, continuing on, “But it mentioned that without the need for actors, film permits and film equipment, VFX teams, and so on, these new media companies could produce hundreds of movies and shows every year at less than half the cost of traditional filmmaking and leave thousands unemployed.”
The professor nodded in agreement in a way that signaled how uncommon it was for anyone to have anything to say, and Abel knew that from here on, the rest of the lecture would be addressed to him alone. He had seen it before in his other classes and with other students—professors at times would elevate a single student above his peers, who all seemed subsequently to be much worse people in his eyes, by issuing a nod, a hand on a hip, and a little grin.
“Social media companies began integrating text-to-video platforms into their own services around the same period.” The professor continued, “On a platform like Twitter, users were given the option in the tweet-publishing queue to create images and videos of any kind and in any style, so long as the content avoided using anyone’s likeness without their consent. Instagram and TikTok did the same, with almost all content on these platforms becoming either AI enhanced or entirely computer generated. The phrase ‘hyperreality’ was thrown around often.”
“It’s all just been porn, everywhere you look people are just making their own porn,” Abel blurted out. He wanted badly to make the pale redhead sitting beside him laugh with a ribald comment, and he succeeded, and at once returned to the maternity ward in his mind. He saw a baby smiling in the arms of its redheaded mother, he saw the very essence of life itself in the image of a woman with her child.
The professor returned him from his dream when he began to speak.
“While the porn industry was also disrupted by this technology, becoming very niche, there were also much more sophisticated use-cases happening,”
Abel dismissed his entire dream again, his full attention trained on that booming voice again,
“Machine-produced imagery of other worlds, of extinct creatures, of mythical creatures, of the rise and fall of long-buried civilizations, of great battles which altered the course of history, of different and novel histories altogether, all appearing to the eye as indistinguishable from real life. The average consumer was thrust into a dreamland unlike anything we’ve seen.”
“But people who made their livelihoods creating art have been hurt by this stuff,” said the redhead, her voice filled with more empathy and passion than is safe for any one individual to leave their house with.
“Let’s get into some of the pitfalls of this technology,” the professor said, responding to her passion and softness in kind with softness of his own, as God intended when He, in His great wisdom, made those frail, silly creatures who inspire men to actions they wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
“We have a dating market that’s been completely upended by chatbots that can speak to thousands of women simultaneously with more game than Bobby Fischer; we have tens of millions of people who say they’re dating a chatbot and tens of millions more who say they have no other friends besides these AIs; we also have art, the sphere we all imagined would be left untouched by AI, completely overrun with AI produced works. The current year feels very very weird, and frankly depressing.”
For the sake of professional posture, the professor tried his best to give an impartial view of his subject matter. But now his thoughts swelled with emotion. For some time he had felt as if the rug had been pulled out from beneath his feet. Years of study and hard work to secure a tenured position, the fulfillment of a dream to teach and shape future generations, all cheapened by a technology that can write all essay assignments for students, teach them entire lessons without the need for them to attend class, predict future test questions and give every correct answer in advance. His job had entered that same rapid phase of obsolescence he described as happening to the entertainment industry.
“Our own university has been harmed by these technologies,” the professor said, “it’s hard to see the positives when your own job has been automated, but that’s the story of human progress. A new machine is made to replace someone’s old occupation, and at best we get a few new jobs involving the new automation tool, and at worst we have more free time.”
“I don’t think you’ll be replaced, professor,” Abel said, “I’m actually pretty optimistic. I think we take for granted that most human inventions haven’t had a steep learning curve to derive their benefits, we assume that all new technologies operate along the same lines and will just automatically work in our best interest. But these new tools are more like physics problems than the tools of the past, they present questions that we don’t know the answers to just yet. But that doesn’t mean something bad is happening! We’re only just getting started.”
“In every class I pose the same challenge,” the professor replied, “I’ll give an A to whichever student proposes a simple, new framework for this class that can test student knowledge without them getting help from an AI.”
“We can always ask an AI how to make itself obsolete.”
The release of Open AI’s new chatbot, chatgpt, has been a bit unnerving to say the least, I don’t believe I’ve ever felt a sense of unease caused by a new technology. Am I going to be replaced as a writer? Is a robot going to be more charming than me? I want to say that all of this shouldn’t even matter since AIs aren’t actually alive, but honestly that somehow makes it worse!
Pushing feelings aside though, we’ve got a world-altering tool cresting on our horizon and it’s remarkable. Former president of Harvard Larry Summers called it an invention equal to the internet, and I think that he’s completely right. We’re building machines that I’m not sure we’re prepared for, but the people who start preparing now, who think about how to use these tools for good, are going to be bigger winners than Gates, Bezos, and all the rest of them when this plays out. Truly wild times are ahead and I hope we’re ready.
Let’s see how this goes.
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