Look who’s talking! (AI toys and tools)

My thoughts feel dated even before typing them up, but it’s spring of 2023 and the world has its panties in a bunch over ChatGPT and other Natural Language Processing AI:s, and I just want to put my scratch in the goal post for future reference. There are new AI products being churned out faster than even the press-release press technology media outlets can keep up with. (Subsequently, some have started publishing AI-generated content)

Still from Colossus: The Forbin Project – a 1970 movie about AI:s behaving badly

The economic downturn – combined with the class war waged by the tech sector on its workforce – has investment money salivating at the prospect of a new boom. Subsequently, there’s much said about the coming nerd rupture and ascendance of the machine.

Noam Chomsky et.al have some objections:

It is at once comic and tragic, as Borges might have noted, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.

Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull: The false promise of ChatGPT [Archive.org mirror of NYT op-ed]

It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing around with the tools – I pay both for Midjourney and ChatGPT API – but it feels like intelligence pareidoila (seeing patterns in random data). You can have a really interesting discussion with ChatGPT, and you can be surprised by what seems like creative insights and suggestions. But I’ve had really interesting discussions with the birds on the poster over my bed, as well as with my drunk reflection in the mirror. I provided the meaning and the interpretation – and I did so because I played the game of “let’s pretend.”

Another still from Colossus: The Forbin Project – before everything goes poopy

I’m in school right now, retooling myself into a UX design & research person, and AI crops up in more and more omnious tones. I talked with a couple Javascript students who felt vaguely threatened by AI and uncertain of what their value proposition was. And to my ears they were basing their fear not on anything specific, but rather a general sense of the AI is coming for us all! Which is being fuelled by writers on Medium with fiften susbscribers who need to write hyperbolic articles in order to – oh irony! – impress the AI of Google Search.

We had a guest lecturer the other week who talked about AI tools as something which we’ll have to learn to use within UX, in particular graphic / UI generators. That’s definitely a use I can see and which doesn’t cause me much consternation – I’ve been using generative software the past thirty years in different capacities, this latest breed just happen to be easier to talk to – but when people start writing about using ChatGPT as personas for user research, that’s just difficult to take seriously. That’s really giving into pareidoila, and you’re better of doing astrology or divining from entrails.

From Colossus: The Forbin Project – there’s now a souvenir shop to celebrate human subservience!

I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this. Of course I’d like to have my cake and eat it – by which I mean I’d like to seem clever and reasonable without missing an opportunity to piss on the AI parade – but in the end I think I come down on the side that the current iteration of AI will lead society down a shitty path where the first line of contact with other humans will be through our mutual AI:s, and as usual those with more resources will be able to have better tailored tools (as usual) to make the most of the world (as usual) and ensconce themselves in bubbles where they can have plausible deniability even more than today.

Because it will not only be “the market” which will have decided that you can no longer afford your medicin, your education, or your vacation – it will be an AI which will have endless patience to listen to your litany, but no semblence of decency to react to it.

— update 15 March —
ChatGPT 4 has just been released, and the discussion on Hacker news is full of hot-takes on what it means and you don’t know what it means and ooh, shiny.