How many opportunities have you missed because you just weren’t paying attention? I’m sure I’ve missed plenty.
Imagine, for example, if you had lived in 15th-century Germany when Gutenberg introduced the first movable-type printing press. What impact might it have had on your life and the lives of those around you if you had understood the significance of that event? Could you have played a special role in furthering its development?
What if you had been there during the birth of self-propelled vehicles, moving pictures, or wireless communications, and understood their significance?
I’ve been there. In the early 1970s, I was lucky enough to witness the rise of the personal computer and, shortly thereafter, the World Wide Web. I had a stack of floppy disks and logged onto the Internet using a modem. I worked with a company that helped IBM market the precursor to e-commerce and collaborated with others to create some of the first digital “clip art.”
I attended the big computer hardware and software expos and used the first versions of DOS, Macintosh “System 1,” and Windows. Later, in the 1990s, I started ideabook.com, where I blogged about what was happening in the design and marketing industries and wrote books and magazine articles on “desktop publishing.”
It was a blast, but I still kick myself for not fully appreciating what was happening around me.
I tell you that to tell you this:
Today, something even more profound is happening: the rise of a new way of thinking and creating—Artificial Intelligence (AI). If you are not already intimately familiar with it, I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting up to speed.
There are many applications of AI, but for now, let’s focus on OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a sophisticated AI model that you “prompt” to produce text and images that appear as if a human created them.
AI models like this have never existed before.
To me, using ChatGPT is like having two brains. The first, of course, is the brain I was born with–the God-given gift we use to generate our own array of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
ChatGPT (and models like it) are a kind of “second brain”—one that I can prompt in ways similar to how I think my own thoughts. Except, in this case, I type generate the thoughts by writing them out in the form of directions and questions (prompts).
The quantum leap is that my second brain not limited to what I know; my second brain draws on what it has been “trained” using—in the case of ChatGPT, a wide-ranging compilation of human knowledge including libraries, databases, and websites that delve deeply into just about any subject you can think of: everything from physics, computer science, and mathematics, to aesthetics, religion, and philosophy.
And it can access all that information and produce seemingly cogent responses in what the blink of an eye.
One more important distinction: Each response is, in large part, personalized. In other words, you and I can prompt ChatGPT with the same words and get different results. That’s because generating varied responses is one of ChatGPT’s foundational principles—it is designed to produce a range of possibilities or perspectives on any given topic, much like a conversation with a human might evolve.
EVERYONE needs understand this phenomenon.
You and I will soon be living in a world where many of the people around us are using these extraordinarily powerful tools in their work and everyday interactions. Think of it as similar to how we have integrated computer searches into our everyday lives over the last 30 years, but in far more accessible, personalized, and relevant ways.
You will no longer need to be a writer to write, an illustrator to illustrate, or an expert to navigate complex subjects. Though you’ll still need to be motivated, knowledgeable, and creative–AI will require a new set of talents based on your ability to control and direct its thinking.
The more you are able to communicate your beliefs, your interests, and your style to ChatGPT, the more its responses will be fashioned to match your own. You are in charge of what it produces. You can push back on it, challenge it, tell it to “continue,” “restate,” “dig deeper,” or even prompt it like this: “Edit this for spelling, grammar, voice, and tense, but don’t water down the point of view.”
And these are just the early days of AI. Models like ChatGPT are continually “trained” using a process “based on a machine learning method called unsupervised learning, specifically using a variant of the transformer architecture known as the Generative Pretrained Transformer (GPT)”. The changes will be profound—and I’m guessing they will happen very quickly.
Some examples of how you can use it today.
- Tutor you on virtually any subject.
- Generate articles, stories, and social media content.
- Debug and suggest improvements for coding.
- Learn languages and practice conversation and grammar.
- Draft and edit emails, reports, and proposals.
- Translate texts and enhance voice-to-text.
- Generate insights on trends and strategies for business analysis.
- Offer preliminary advice on legal and medical topics.
- Explain complex issues.
- Explore theories in philosophical discussions.
In recent weeks, ChatGPT has added image generation and analysis capabilities. Now you can ask it to:
- Generate unique images, illustrations, or artworks.
- Create educational diagrams and charts.
- Experiment with artistic styles and themes.
- Turn abstract data or concepts into understandable visuals.
- Create conceptual visuals for architectural designs.
- Design custom graphics for personalized gifts and merchandise.
- Generate visual mockups for apps, websites, or print materials.
- Visualize historical events, cultures, or extinct species.
- Illustrate articles, books, or research papers.
- Develop advertising and marketing campaigns.
I asked ChatGPT, “What are some fundamental changes we can expect AI to make in the next 10 years?” Here is its response:
“Enhanced Automation Across Industries: AI’s capacity for automation will continue to revolutionize industries, streamlining processes, and augmenting human capabilities. From manufacturing and logistics to healthcare and finance, AI-driven automation will redefine workflows, optimizing efficiency and productivity.
Personalized Experiences: AI-powered algorithms will increasingly personalize experiences across various domains, including e-commerce, entertainment, and education. By analyzing vast amounts of data, AI will tailor recommendations, content, and services to individual preferences, enhancing user satisfaction and engagement.
Advancements in Healthcare: AI will play a pivotal role in revolutionizing healthcare delivery, from diagnosis and treatment to patient care and drug discovery. Predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms will enable early disease detection, personalized treatment plans, and improved patient outcomes, ultimately reshaping the healthcare landscape.
Ethical Considerations and Regulation: With the proliferation of AI technologies, ethical considerations and regulatory frameworks will become paramount. As AI systems gain autonomy and decision-making capabilities, addressing issues of bias, privacy, and accountability will be essential to ensure responsible AI development and deployment.
Rise of AI-driven Creativity: Contrary to concerns about AI replacing human creativity, we can expect AI to complement and inspire creative endeavors. AI-powered tools and platforms will empower artists, designers, and writers, facilitating innovative expression and pushing the boundaries of creativity in unforeseen ways.
Workforce Transformation: The integration of AI into the workforce will necessitate reskilling and upskilling initiatives to adapt to evolving job roles and skill requirements. Collaborative partnerships between humans and AI systems will redefine work dynamics, emphasizing human-centric tasks such as problem-solving, decision-making, and emotional intelligence.
Global Socioeconomic Impacts: AI’s pervasive influence will extend beyond individual industries, shaping global socioeconomic dynamics. From workforce displacement and income inequality to geopolitical tensions and environmental sustainability, AI’s impact will be far-reaching, necessitating proactive strategies for equitable and sustainable development.”
While AI offers exciting prospects, it presents sobering challenges. The next decade of AI development will likely be as much about managing those challenges as it is about managing its advancements.
Here’s what ChatGPT tells me about the potential disruptions:
“Economic Disruption: AI’s rapid advancement is poised to disrupt traditional economic structures, leading to job displacement and the reshaping of industries. While automation may streamline processes and boost productivity, it could also result in job redundancies, particularly in routine-based roles. The challenge lies in mitigating these disruptions through proactive workforce development initiatives and reimagining economic models to foster inclusive growth.
Social Disruption: AI’s widespread adoption may exacerbate existing social inequalities, widening the gap between those who have access to AI-driven technologies and those who do not. Moreover, concerns about privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias may erode trust in AI systems, leading to societal tensions and ethical dilemmas. Addressing these issues requires transparent governance frameworks, equitable access to AI tools, and robust safeguards to protect individual rights and liberties.
Cultural Disruption: The integration of AI into creative industries could challenge conventional notions of artistry and cultural expression. While AI-generated content may offer novel avenues for creativity, it also raises questions about authenticity and human authorship. Balancing the benefits of AI-driven innovation with the preservation of cultural heritage and artistic integrity necessitates critical dialogue and ethical considerations within the creative community.
Environmental Disruption: AI has the potential to drive significant environmental disruptions, both positive and negative. On one hand, AI-enabled technologies could optimize resource allocation, enhance energy efficiency, and mitigate climate change impacts. On the other hand, the energy-intensive nature of AI training and computation poses environmental challenges, exacerbating carbon emissions and resource depletion. Striking a balance between AI-driven innovation and environmental sustainability requires conscious efforts to develop eco-friendly AI solutions and promote responsible consumption practices.
Geopolitical Disruption: The race for AI dominance among nations may intensify geopolitical tensions and fuel competition for technological supremacy. Issues related to data sovereignty, intellectual property rights, and cybersecurity could become flashpoints in global affairs, shaping diplomatic relations and strategic alliances. Collaborative efforts to establish international norms and standards for AI governance are essential to mitigate geopolitical risks and foster global cooperation in harnessing AI for collective benefit.”
The philosophical challenges.
One concern I have about artificial intelligence (AI) is that it is based on the idea that there are no absolute truths, especially those involving philosophy, ethics, and religion (what is generally defined as “relativism”).
Why is this a problem? Because all human beings believe in some framework of absolute truth, even if their absolute truths center around the belief that there are no absolute truths.
The problem becomes apparent when you direct AI models to address an issue that includes such truths. At that point a model like ChatGPT must choose the truths it has been trained to choose by its programmers and teachers, or it must water down its response to the extent that it avoids committing to a specific stance in an effort to eliminate the possibility of offending anyone.
The reality is, companies developing AI are not removing absolute truths from their model designs, they are deciding what absolute truths they agree with and are building around them. Much like Google did with search, the people making decisions about how to answer this need in the these early stages, could wield enormous influence in the future.
Right now, the only way I know of to overcome the built-in biases of any AI model, is to to build your beliefs and opinions into your prompts and insist the model conforms to them.
Clearly, we are not there yet.
Add to this philosophical challenges, three more issues:
First, as of this writing, ChatGPT’s knowledge base is capped at April 2023, so it won’t be of much help with efforts that require up-to-date information.
Second, the accuracy and breadth of its responses are directly tied to the quality and diversity of the data it is trained on—so if it hasn’t been trained on what you’re looking for, chances are the response will be inadequate and/or incomplete.
And third, “hallucination” is the term used to describe cases when an AI language model generate text to fill in gaps in its knowledge with plausible-sounding but inaccurate information. In other words, beware, at times, AI just makes stuff up.
Questions you should be asking.
As we explore these new tools we need to be asking some important questions. ChatGPT itself suggests we work to answer the following:
“What are the ethical implications of AI development? This includes concerns about privacy, surveillance, data security, and the potential for AI to be used in ways that could harm individuals or society.
How can we ensure AI fairness and avoid bias? Given that AI systems learn from data, how do we prevent these systems from perpetuating or amplifying existing biases and inequalities?
What are the potential impacts of AI on employment and the workforce? As AI automates tasks, which jobs are at risk, and what new roles might emerge? How do we prepare the workforce for these changes?
How can AI be made transparent and explainable? Can users understand how AI systems make decisions, especially in critical areas like healthcare, finance, and criminal justice?
What regulatory frameworks are needed to manage AI’s development and deployment? How do governments and international bodies oversee AI to ensure it benefits society while minimizing risks?
What are the long-term societal impacts of AI? Beyond immediate technological and economic impacts, how might AI influence social structures, human behavior, and our understanding of intelligence?
How can AI contribute to solving global challenges? How can we harness AI to address critical issues such as climate change, healthcare, and global inequality?
What is the role of human oversight in AI decisions? In what situations should AI decision-making be augmented or overridden by human judgment, especially in high-stakes scenarios?”
To those ends, just one year ago in March of 2023, many of the people heading up efforts in AI called on all AI labs “to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4” (see a link to their letter at the bottom of this page).
What’s the next step?
As I said at the top, I think AI offers some unprecedented opportunities. If you want to experience some of what led me to write this post I recommend starting with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. (I have played with Google’s Gemini and, as of this writing, I believe it pales by comparison.)
For image generation, ChatGPT has some impressive tools but MidJourney, a dedicated image generation platform, offers even more control over the results.
By-the-way: I used AI to write some of this post and to proofread it, check the grammar, punctuation, and so on. Its efforts are so intertwined with my own that I can’t tell you who wrote what. Suffice it to say that, though the article is my thinking and approach (my brain), I can’t take full credit for the end result (ChatGPT’s brain).
I choose to be optimistic—so far.
In the past, most of us probably agree that an inanimate entity would not be classified as “good” or “evil.” But, too, I think we don’t yet know that these rapidly evolving models will remain totally inanimate.
As you become more aware of the subject you’re going to run across the idea than some folks feel there’s a very real possibility that artificial intelligence systems will one day develop a form of sentience: the capacity to experience feelings, sensations, and subjective experiences, akin to those of living beings.
It’s very possible that in the not to distant future that AI could be prompting AI. At that point, the “good” or “evil” thing could very well come into play.
If that was to happen, my hope is that there could be something spiritual at play. That AI might ultimately reveal the complexity and beauty of our universe and lead us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of creation and the Christian God.
But that is very much something that has yet to be determined. We’re in uncharted territory.
I hope you’ll join the conversation and share you thoughts below.
Some AI related links:
In March of 2023 some of the people heading up efforts in AI called on all AI labs “to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4”. Here’s an explanation and their letter…
Geoffrey Hinton talks about about the impact and potential of AI…