by James Wallace Harris, 3/24/23
Back in 1970, a nonfiction bestseller, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, was widely talked about but it’s little remembered today. With atomic bombs in the 1940s, ICBMs, and computers in the 1950s, manned space flight and landing on the Moon in the 1960s, LSD, hippies, the Age of Aquarius, civil rights, gay rights, feminism, as well as a yearly unfolding of new technologies, it was easy to understand why Toffler suggested the pace of change could lead society into a collective state of shock.
But if we could time travel back to 1970 we could quote Al Jolson to Alvin, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Couldn’t we? Toffler never came close to imagining the years we’ve been living since 1970. And his book was forgotten, but I think his ideas are still valid.
Future shock finally hit me yesterday when I watched the video “‘Sparks of AGI’ – Bombshell GPT-4 Paper: Fully Read w/ 15 Revelations.”
I’ve been playing around with ChatGPT for weeks, and I knew GPT 4 was coming, but I was surprised as hell when it hit so soon. Over the past few weeks, people have been writing and reporting about using ChatGPT and the general consensus was it was impressive but because it made so many mistakes we shouldn’t get too worried. GPT 4 makes far fewer mistakes. Far fewer. But it’s fixing them fast.
Watch the video! Read the report. I’ve been waiting years for general artificial intelligence, and this isn’t it. But it’s so damn close that it doesn’t matter. Starting back in the 1950s when computer scientists first started talking about AI, they kept trying to set the bar that would prove a computer could be called intelligent. An early example was playing chess. But when a computer was built to perform one of these measures and passed, computer scientists would say that test really wasn’t a true measure of intelligence and we should try X instead. Well, we’re running out of things to equate with human-level intelligence.
Most people have expected a human-level intelligent computer would be sentient. I think GPT 4 shows that’s not true. I’m not sure anymore if any feat of human intelligence needs to be tied to sentience. All the fantastic skills we admire about our species are turning out to be skills a computer can perform.
We thought we’d trump computers with our mental skills, but it might be our physical skills that are harder to give machines. Like I said, watch the video. Computers can now write books, compose music, do mathematics, paint pictures, create movies, analyze medical mysteries, understand legal issues, ponder ethics, etc. Right now AI computers configured as robots have difficulty playing basketball, knitting, changing a diaper, and things like that. But that could change just as fast as things have been changing with cognitive creativity.
I believe most people imagined a world of intelligent machines being robots that look like us — like those we see in the movies. Well, the future never unfolds like we imagine. GPT and its kind are invisible to us, but we can easily interact with them. I don’t think science or science fiction imagined how easily that interaction would be, or how quickly it would be rolled out. Because it’s here now.
I don’t think we ever imagined how distributed AI would become. Almost anything you can think of doing, you can aid your efforts right now by getting advice and help from a GPT-type AI. Sure, there are still problems, but watch the video. There are far fewer problems than last week, and who knows how many fewer there will be next week.
Future shock is all about adapting to change. If you can’t handle the change, you’re suffering from future shock. And that’s the thing about the 1970 Toffler book. Most of us kept adapting to change no matter how fast it came. But AI is going to bring about a big change. Much bigger than the internet or computers or even the industrial revolution.
You can easily tell the difference between the people who will handle this change and those who can’t. Those that do are already using AI. They embraced it immediately. We’ve been embracing pieces of AI for years. A spelling and grammar checker is a form of AI. But this new stuff is a quantum leap over everything that’s come before. Put it to use or get left behind.
Do you know about cargo cults? Whenever an advanced society met a primitive society it doesn’t go well for primitive societies. The old cultural divide was between the educated and the uneducated. Expect new divisions. And remember Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For many people, AI will be magic.
Right now AI can help scholars write books. Soon AI will be able to write better scholarly books than scholars. Will that mean academics giving up writing papers and books? I don’t think so. AIs, as of now, have no desires. Humans will guide them. In the near future, humans will ride jockey on AI horses.
A couple weeks ago Clarkesworld Magazine, a science fiction magazine, shut down submissions because they were being flooded with Chat-GPT-developed stories. The problem was the level of submissions was overwhelming them, but the initial shock I think for most people would be the stories would be crap. That the submitted science fiction wouldn’t be creative in a human sense. That those AI-written stories would be a cheat. But what if humans using GPT start producing science fiction stories that are better than stories only written by humans?
Are you starting to get why I’m asking you if you feel future shock yet? Be sure and watch the video.
Finally, isn’t AI just another example of human intelligence? Maybe when AIs create artificial AIs, we can call them intelligent.