When I was young, there were several popular movies warning of the dangers of unfettered artificial intelligence.
The first was 1983’s “Games of War,” in which Matthew Broderick, a young computer hacker, accidentally triggers a countdown to the U.S. firing its entire nuclear arsenal on the Soviet Union after the Pentagon had handed over control of intercontinental ballistic missiles to the Soviet Union. Missile system to computer program, after a human failed to carry out a launch order during a training exercise.
The second was 1984’s The Terminator, in which killer robot Arnold Schwarzenegger was sent back in time by a sentient artificial intelligence (called Skynet) to assassinate future Resistance heroes battling AI . I think I have this right. I honestly never understood the whole time travel aspect of the “Terminator” series. Like everyone else, I pay attention to the kicks and explosions.
The common moral of these two cautionary tales is that humans should be careful not to give too much control to algorithms. In “WarGames” the world is saved when they manage to teach the computer a lesson by telling it that some games (like Tic Tac Toe and Global Thermonuclear War) are unwinnable, so it’s best not to play them.
I think the “Terminator” series is too lucrative for Skynet to teach it its final lesson once and for all, but the warning is the same: when the AI realizes how scary humans are, if it decides it’s not , don’t be surprised it’s necessary for us to stay around.
I think about these two films in the context of the recent widespread public discussion and jitters over ChatGPT, the large-scale language model AI algorithm made available to the public by the OpenAI project.
ChatGPT can generate very smooth prose for any question or prompt in seconds, and it’s truly amazing the first time you see it at work. Its proficiency and fluency has some people shocked by how ChatGPT avoids what most students are required to write for school, as it can generate an infinite number of B-grade responses without triggering plagiarism detectors of any kind .
For me, it’s mostly about questioning the type of writing students do in school. Why do we train them to write like algorithms?
But some have even gone so far as to suggest that this is the end of all kinds of writers, novelists, poets, journalists, you name it. If an algorithm can publish error-free prose on any topic in seconds, why should we accept the inevitable flaws of human creation?
Let me suggest that we consider the lessons of those films 40 years ago that illustrated the limits of computerized “perfection” and perhaps consider those human “flaws” to be the real thing to read about.
Of course, we should think about how we live and work in a world where this technology exists, but we must also remember that, as leaders, we have choice and agency over technology. “War Games” and “The Terminator” are about what happens when we abdicate our collective responsibility to honor what, flaws and everything, makes us human.
ChatGPT cannot think, reason or make intuitive leaps. It is a grammar-arranging machine, and writing is more than just arranging grammar. Even when creative writers start using ChatGPT as a tool, it is human intervention that will determine whether a product is worth our time.
John Warner is the author of Why They Can’t Write: Killing Five-Paragraph Essays and Other Necessities.
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on your last five books.
1. “Lincoln Highway” byAmor Towles
2. “Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow” by Gabriel Zevin
3. “This Is Happiness” by Neil Williams
4. “The Underground Railroad” colson whitehead
5. “Young Mungo” by Douglas Stewart
—Alissa P., Chicago
Alissa seemed to be drawn to Karen Joy Fowler’s “We’re All Totally Lost About Ourselves,” which combines character-driven narrative with in-story surprises.
1. “On the move” by Oliver Sachs
2. “Trust” by Hernan Diaz
3. “Netanyahus” Joshua Cohen
4. “Less is less” by Andrew Sean Greer
5. “Zhang Yuying” darling strauss
— Michael T., Wilmette
Kevin Wilson’s “Nothing to See Here” mixes the real with the fantastic while adding a touch of humor, traits that are featured on Michael’s recent reading list.
1. “Marriage Portrait” by Margio Farrell
2. “The Heart We Miss” by Celeste Wu
3. “Devil Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsol
4. “Sea of Tranquility” Emily St. John Mandel
5. “Little things like this” Claire Keegan
– Georgia M., Naperville
This is a novel I often recommend because I think it’s the perfect blend of emotion and reason, as we experience a man trying to regain his life after a major loss, a world he once believed in being challenged by new ideas and new people: Everything Explained by Lauren Grodstein.
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