The excitement about ChatGPT has provoked the usual slew of profound rhetorical questions in technocratic circles. “Can Education stay the same?” “Will X job or Y profession survive the tide?” “Will reading and writing become obsolete?” Right beneath the surface of such profundities is their favorite question of course- “How can I make money with ChatGPT?”
The choir is the same. We have the fawning sycophants singing in tenor and soprano about the “amazing” experiences generative AI will make possible. “Imagine if…….” they instruct us in their best singing voices. We have the corporate baritones and mezzo-sopranos who can barely conceal their excitement in verse but offer us the throwaway admonition that we must “be careful” about AI bias and ethics.
And so on. Outside of the choir, in the front seats we have LinkedIn philosophers talking about ‘disruption” and “paradigm shifts,” offering us a harsh reality check about “Luddism” (*) and admonishing us to stop denying progress and ignoring history.
That’s the nature of all technological progress in an era in which the current-version of the airwaves is controlled by technocrats, paid celebrities, and fulsome yes-men/women who are always looking to cash in on the latest “innovation” or ingratiate themselves to billionaires.
The saddest part of the whole thing is that these myopic mirror-gazers are the ones giving advice to children and actively steering them into a future of STEMidiocy. The same people who presided over a war on the Earth and are handing these very children a planet in peril (for humans) are now telling kids to cede their minds and souls to AI.
No doubt, there are critics and even alarmed activists and parents who read the portents and are fighting back. More power to them. But even those people are missing a key argument, an argument deeply connected to the essence of being human.
Reading, writing, struggling to produce, and being imperfect are all joys. Pleasures. Would I want to spend 15 minutes CliffsNoting-via-AI a wonderful book versus spending 10 hours enjoying it? No. Do I enjoy writing, even with the mistakes I make, the long pauses, and the bad reception many of my articles get? Yes. I do.
I also enjoy going to the store and interacting with people. And I love “wasting” time hugging my kids and talking nonsense with them. I love the inefficiencies, the discovery, and even the roads that lead to nowhere.
We have forgotten to love the process, to revel in the steps. We have decided, in good Capitalist fashion, to think of efficiency (in some things) as the pinnacle in the hierarchy of values. We are telling our children that – in fact- they should skip the hard parts- the wonderful parts- and just let the machines take-over. After all, that’s the most efficient way of being. No matter the addled brains left behind and the aimless souls.
What should be obvious to everyone, however, is that “efficiencies” are really what the technocrats want to impose on others. They want to walk out of a shop without talking to anyone or standing in line while that “efficiency” is visited upon the now-fired clerk or check-out person. They want AI to teach their kids so that they can fire professors or reduce them to grading machines. They want to automate everything OTHER than their own jobs, lives, and “experiences.”
The same people who laud AI and automation tell you about how much they love their ski vacations, dining experiences, and “time with their loved ones.” Seems so inefficient- to ski that is. Why not don a VR headset and spend a minute or two on a “slope.” Why eat a long, wine-dripped meal with a friend? Just down a power bar on a Zoom call. And maybe a robot can teach your kids how to ride a bike.
AI won’t deliver the joys of the soul. Ever.
(*) A little learning is indeed a dangerous thing. The Luddites were hardly mindless anti-technologists. They understood full-well that the machines being introduced would destroy the dignity of work and callously replace humans. If only the technocrats knew the history they invoked.