Alex Zeng, MJLST Staffer
The fear of robots taking over the world and making humans obsolete has permeated the fabric of human society in recent history. With advances in technology blurring the line between human art and artificial intelligence (“AI”) art and a study predicting that 800 million workers across the globe will be replaced by robots by 2030, it may be hard to remain optimistic about humanity’s role in an increasingly automated society. Indeed, films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) and I, Robot (2004) take what awaits humans in a society ruled by robots to its logical conclusion, and—spoiler alert—it is not great for humans. This blog post discusses ChatGPT, its achievements, and its potential consequences on human society. ChatGPT, a point for the robots, embodies people’s fear of the bleak future of a fully automated world.
What Is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a chatbot launched by OpenAI in November of 2022. It uses natural language processing to engage in realistic conversations with humans and it can generate articles, fictional stories, poems, and computer code by responding to prompts queried by users. It is built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3 family of large language models and is fine-tuned using supervised and reinforcement learning techniques. This GPT model is also autoregressive, meaning that it predicts the next word given a body of text. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests. ChatGPT is not without its limitations, however. OpenAI says that ChatGPT’s limitations include: (1) writing plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers, (2) being sensitive to tweaks to the input phrasing or attempting the same prompt multiple times, (3) being excessively verbose and overusing certain phrases, (4) being unable to ask clarifying questions when the user provides an ambiguous query, and (5) responding to harmful instructions or exhibiting biased behavior.
Uses For ChatGPT
The main distinction between ChatGPT and other chatbots and natural language processing systems is its ultra-realistic conversational skills. Professor Ethan Mollick in the Harvard Business Review claims that it is a tipping point for AI because of this difference in quality as it can even be used to write weight-loss plans, children’s books, and offer advice on how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR in the style of the King James Bible. I even attempted to use ChatGPT to write this blog post for me, although it wrote only 347 words—nowhere near the word minimum of 1,000 words that I had set for it. What is evident through these cases, however, is its level of quality reflecting something that sounds remarkably human.
ChatGPT’s uses are not limited to just answering absurd prompts, however. Professor Mollick had a student using ChatGPT complete a four-hour project in less than an hour by creating a computer code for a startup prototype using code libraries they had never seen before. Additionally, ChatGPT was able to pass graduate business and law exams, although it was by the skin of its silicon teeth. Indeed, it was even able to pass Constitutional Law, Employee Benefits, Taxation, and Torts exams administered by University of Minnesota Law School professors Jonathan Choi, Kristin Hickman, Amy Monahan, and Daniel Schwarcz. Of course, while ChatGPT would not be graduating in the top of its class and would actually be placed on academic probation, it would still notably graduate with a degree based on these results.
Implications of ChatGPT
ChatGPT’s application to tasks that require creativity and expression such as answering exam questions, producing computer code, and being this generation’s Dr. Seuss, reveals an important yet potentially perilous step forward in how AI is used. Rather than being used in areas where failure is expensive and intolerable—such as with autonomous driving—AI is now being used in tasks where some failure is acceptable. In these tasks, AI such as ChatGPT is already performing well enough that online customer service roles were taken over by AI and it threatens replacing humans in any task that requires simple execution, such as following a script or whipping up a legal document. In fact, an AI-powered robot lawyer was about to represent a defendant in court before the prosecutors threatened the person behind the chatbot with prison time.
When used as a tool rather than a standalone replacement for humans, however, the realm of possibilities regarding productivity expands exponentially. Businesses and individuals can save time and resources by having AI do more of these menial tasks such as drafting letters and writing emails. Writers with writer’s block, for example, can suddenly gain inspiration by having a conversation with ChatGPT. On the other hand, students can use ChatGPT to finish their assignments and write their exams for them. Additionally, while ChatGPT has filters that prevent it from saying offensive language, these filters can be bypassed so that it responds to queries that may facilitate crime. Additionally, ChatGPT raises big questions regarding, for example, copyright law and who owns the responses ChatGPT generates.
Some drawbacks to using AI and ChatGPT for these tasks is that while ChatGPT gives human-like answers, it does not necessarily give the right answer. ChatGPT also cannot explain what it does or how it does it, making it difficult to verify what results in the answers it gives. Finally, and perhaps critically, ChatGPT cannot explain why something is meaningful and thus cannot replicate human judgment. In other words, ChatGPT can explain data but cannot explain why it matters.
In a more positive light, some may herald the improvements in AI and ChatGPT as the dawn of a new human-machine hybrid Industrial Revolution, where humans are able to be vastly more efficient and effective at their jobs. ChatGPT is, in some ways, the culmination of current efforts in AI to produce human sentience. However, as advancements in AI continue to replace human functions in society, it may no longer be a question of if humans will be replaced entirely by robots, but when. Although it was previously believed that AI could never replicate art, for example, discussions about AI-generated art today reflect that AI may achieve what was believed to be impossible sooner rather than later. In this case, AI like ChatGPT can be viewed not as the harbinger of a human-machine society, but an omen of the obsoletion of human function in society. Relievingly, however, AI like ChatGPT has not yet reached the logical conclusion contemplated in dystopian films.