People don’t always realize when they are in a time of great change, until they look back. Years later, I remembered one of those times as an undergraduate at UCLA in the 1990s. I was able to test out the internet that was created there, and got my first email.
In Boston, 1997, as an adjunct professor, I taught courses in mass communications, sharing about the major milestones in the history of communications: the printing press, telegraph, computers and smartphones to name a few. Today, we are experiencing another significant historical shift!
If you’re not familiar with what’s happened in the last few months, let me give you a quick rundown. A company called Open AI released ChatGPT in November of 2022. Basically, you can ask it just about anything and it will give you an answer as if you’re texting with a knowledgable friend with the internet as its brain. Not impressed? Well, imagine for a moment, asking it to write a poem about Korean food (yes, I did) and it coming back within seconds (2 seconds to be exact) with a pretty decent 153 word original poem! Are you beginning to see the implications? What I witnessed left me astonished, deeply impressed, excited and scared all at the same time. My world changed.
On Feb. 7, 2022 Microsoft released to “trusted testers” in the community (not me) a search engine, a revamped “Bing” with ChatGPT kind of results. These trusted testers, like Kevin Roose, a journalist from the New York Times, got stunning and… how do I phrase it properly… freakin’ terrifying results! (Listen to the Feb. 17 “Hard Fork” podcast for details I won’t go into here. Or Google it, ironically, anything “Bing” and “ChatGPT” to get… so many stories! I’m sorry, not sorry, if this takes you down a bit of a rabbit hole, like it did me.) But trust me, it’s WEIRD! Like robot sentience and an attempt at breaking up your marriage kind of weird! Are you getting at why this is BIG?
Google, recognizing the massive negative implications to their search engine, went into a company state of emergency a day after the soft Bing release and immediately, probably prematurely, released “Bard,” the version of a ChatGPT search engine that they had been working on.
Sure, ChatGPT, Bing, Bard and the like will be helpful on so many levels! It can cut down the time on or come up with new ways to program complicated algorithms for medical research and save lives. It helped me come up with an itinerary for our vacation that only took a couple seconds, as opposed to me researching for weeks as I usually do. Of course, I will tweak it, but I was detailed in my ask (specific places with dates and what types of things we were interested in…) and it was darn detailed in it’s response.
Helpful, yes. But could it also be used for illegal and harmful things, even teaching itself to be “bad?” Absolutely! My brain went to dark places quickly, I mean, can the AI or someone nefarious using it, somehow get around nuclear codes…? Give it a few years, maybe sooner, and watch the good get better and the ugly get… I can’t even fully imagine. The Bing team admits that they do not really know exactly how it comes up with it’s answers beyond it reading into what seems to flow naturally, next… Me: Ummm, based on an internet full of many good facts, yes, but also lies, racism, hate of all sorts, twisted fantasies, how to make a bomb… and so much more! See why this is a GAME CHANGER moment in history?!
As a writer, this is downright terrifying! Bing actually wrote me a book that wasn’t all that bad! I could imagine it in print form. And of course, people have already done it and have gotten in trouble for it (and some have not gotten in trouble because we don’t know the source of their work, yet.) English teachers are scrambling to figure out how to teach and test their students. Say goodbye to at home essays. Everyone will probably have to prove their skills in the classroom, somehow. Some teachers are using ChatGPT. Smart. Use it to come up with essay themes, outlines, even a rough version… and then make it a whole lot better, proving it was you somehow. The bar is now raised for everyone. Wasn’t it already hard? Sigh.
And don’t get me started about my “poor” artist friends! You can say what you want into Open AI’s DALL-E 2 and basically get a professional looking ORIGINAL piece of art in seconds! As a horrible visual artist myself, I was happy to have “created” something so incredibly beautiful! But wait, I just told it what to make and poof. It’s doesn’t seem fair. It isn’t. Granted, you need to know just how to word things to get what’s in your head onto the screen. And it may take some know-how and several tries to get what you want. AI is not there… yet. But it’s quickly approaching. As illustrators feel about AI art, I feel about AI writing. How do we compete? How do we adjust?
But did I run from this scary new tech? NO. I now have access to Bing and am playing with it nearly every day, amazed and yes, still very frightened for what this holds for our future. With AI getting smarter and learning hacks around sounding less artificial (like using “create in the style of…”) there should be concern and care. The cat’s out of the bag. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Self learning AI is here and it’s going nowhere but deeper into our lives. So… we have to pivot with this new creature.
I believe human writers and illustrators are still far better at expressing the nuances of our art with humor and insight. An AI report for a general assignment can be passable. But human creators are still more unique, innovative and feel through their decisions. I have hope in what good thoughtful people (coders, CEOs, lawmakers…) can do to reasonably protect the public and how a more powerful God can intervene. But I’m also watching, staying alert, doing my part to be responsible where I can, and praying for the best.
Note: I, Ann Suk Wang, the human person, am writing this. I would never have thought to qualify this, but given our topic, I must, right?
6 Comments Add yours
This is cool and scary at the same time 😬
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Just wow. So crazy! You’ll have to keep sharing what you learn. Thanks for explaining this to newbies.
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Great article. As a computer programmer I too am amazed, excited and worried about this tech. Like most tech it can be used for good and/or evil, and it will take a while for many to get used to using it in a responsible way. But it is a pretty amazing tool.
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Thanks Richard. Means a lot coming from you