Is This The End of the World?
I was going to ask ChatGPT to write this story, and based on what I have read, it probably would have done as good a job as this, or maybe better. (Or maybe ChatGPT did write this. Who can tell.)
ChatGPT is just the latest iteration (and the first warning) of what is to come in the realm of AI, and we are very much just at the beginning. But I think the end is going to be very unpleasant.
Some 40 years ago, (maybe more) I read a seminal book by George Dyson called Darwin Among the Machines. It was one of those books that changes your life and the way you see the world. I have only run across a handful of them in a lifetime, but like Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death , Dyson did an astonishing job of pretty accurately predicting the future, long before it happened. But it is happening now.
In a nutshell, Dyson (his father was Nobel Prize scientist Freeman Dyson; his sister was Esther Dyson of Release2.0 — so no dope), said simple, computers think very quickly and people think very quickly. But computers can communicate with each other very quickly and people communicate with each other very slowly. Ultimately, computer intelligence is going to surpass human intelligence, and after that, there will be no going back as a species. The next step in evolution is computer intelligence.
Well, that was pretty good for a time when the Apple II was cutting edge computer technology, that that is no longer the case. Texts produced by AI (ChatGPT is but one example) and produce written stories or essays or college term papers that are as good, — no better- than people can produce. They are clever, intelligent, insightful, often funny and razor smart. It is impossible to tell they were machine written.
Recently, Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, in East Hampton, NY, delivered a sermon discussing foregiveness. It was a great sermon — powerful, moving, filled with biblical and literary references. The congregation was deeply impressed. At the end, he admitted that the entire sermon as produced in a matter of seconds by ChatGPT.
He warned that 375 million jobs would be wiped out by Artificial Intelligence. I would guess more.
In 1961, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel put forth what is commonly known as Moore’s Law. He said that computing power would double every 18 months and the cost of computer processing would halve. It turned out he was right, and his law has proven to be true ever since.
What does this mean, this doubling?
Put a grain of rice on the first square of a chess board. Then double it on the second square. Double it again on the third and so on. How much rice could it possibly be?
1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128, 256, 512, 1K, 2K, 4K, 8K…
Do the numbers seem familiar? Instead of grains of rice, these could also be processing power of Intel chips.
You keep doubling every 18 months, how fast do the chips get — and how cheap?
On the chessboard, by the time you get to the 64th square, you have more than8 quintillion grains of rice — more rice than is on the entire planet. Likewise with processing speed and power.
Since Moore made his prediction, we are now at the 43rd square, more than halfway across the board, and then numbers and the processing power of the chips continues to grow exponentially.
At some point in the late 60’s, computing power got fast enough to have calculators replace slide rules. A few year later, basic word processing was possible. Move on a few more years and music became digital — a few more years and photographs. More years still and video — which brought us YouTube and Netflix and Instagram and TikTok. All processing power.
But the power kept growing and now we have enough processing power to begin to apply AI to text. But in a very few years, it will also apply to photographs and AI will be able to create photos on demand. A few more years, and AI will create music — hit song after hit song conjured up in a moment. A few more years and video — AI will create movie on demand — any plot, any actor and time.
This is the world we are headed for.
And what will the rest of us do?
We’ll sit around watching what our machines have made for us. A very passive existence. Perfect, but passive.
Many years ago, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi created what is called Fermi’s Paradox. If there are billions of planets, he said, where is everybody? It may be that we are but one small moment in evolution and that our evolutionary destiny is to become pure intelligence and nothing else. As Dyson says, Darwin among the machines.
One of my favorite sci fi movies is Forbidden Planet, a 1950’s science fiction film that, as it turns out, may prove remarkably prescient. In the plot, Dr. Morbius, an intergallactic archaeologist discovers a planet, Altair 4, where the entire population of an incredibly advanced civilzation seems to have been wiped out over night.
At the end of the movie (which I strongly recommend watching), Morbius reveals that what killed the Krell Civilization was that they had built a massive machine that could deliver whatever anyone wanted at any time, just by thinking about it.
“Monsters from the id,” says one of the astronauts sent to retrieve him.
We may be doing the same thing as the Krell without realizing it. And we may end up the same way.