My Interview with an AI Chatbot about… Thinking

What happens when you talk to an artificial intelligence language model about the value of something it can’t actually do? Thinking, I mean.

For the first time that I ever used ChatGPT from OpenAI, I had it tell me about thinking by asking it to write a couple of short essays. The responses came back remarkably quickly, though they were much shorter than what I expected.

Let’s start with those, and then I’ll have a video of my “interview” with

Write me an entertaining essay about thinking

Thinking is an essential part of who we are as human beings. It allows us to process information, make decisions, and solve problems. But beyond its practical uses, thinking can also be a source of entertainment.

One of the most fascinating aspects of thinking is the way our minds can generate new ideas and connections. When we think, we are essentially taking in information from the world around us and using it to create something new. This process can be incredibly entertaining, as our minds work to make connections between seemingly unrelated things and come up with creative solutions to problems.

Another aspect of thinking that can be entertaining is the way our minds can play with language. Whether we are engaging in wordplay, crafting a clever pun, or simply enjoying the sound of a well-turned phrase, the ability to manipulate language can be a source of great enjoyment.

Thinking can also be entertaining when it allows us to engage with the world in a new and different way. For example, when we engage in lateral thinking, we are able to look at a problem from a variety of different perspectives, which can be both challenging and rewarding. Similarly, when we engage in critical thinking, we are able to evaluate information and arguments in a more thorough and nuanced way, which can be a stimulating mental exercise.

Of course, thinking is not always entertaining. Sometimes it can be frustrating, exhausting, or even painful. But even in these moments, there is something fascinating about the way our minds work, and the insights and revelations that can come from deep thought and reflection.

In conclusion, thinking may not always be a source of pure entertainment, but it is often a fascinating and rewarding mental activity. Whether we are generating new ideas, playing with language, or engaging with the world in a different way, thinking can provide us with a wealth of mental stimulation and enjoyment.

Write me a funny essay about thinking

Thinking can be a real pain in the brain. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes it feels like it’s just not worth the effort. But let’s face it, what else are we going to do with our time? Watch reruns of “The Price is Right” for the millionth time? No thanks.

So we might as well embrace the joys (and pains) of thinking. And let’s be real, there are some pretty funny things that happen when we let our minds wander.

For example, have you ever had a thought that made you laugh out loud, only to have someone else look at you like you’re crazy? Like, “Why do they call it a drive-through if you have to stop?” or “Why do we wash bath towels? Aren’t we just cleaning off our own dirt?” These are the kinds of thoughts that make thinking worth it.

But thinking isn’t all fun and games. Sometimes it can be downright frustrating. Like when you’re trying to remember the name of that actor in that one movie and it’s right on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t seem to spit it out. Or when you’re trying to solve a problem but you just can’t seem to make any progress. These are the times when thinking can feel like a chore.

But even in these moments, there’s something to be said for the sheer determination of the human mind. We may not always be successful in our thinking endeavors, but at least we’re giving it our best shot. And that’s something to be proud of.

In conclusion, thinking may not always be a barrel of laughs, but it can definitely provide some comedic moments. And even when it’s not making us laugh, it’s at least keeping us from becoming complete couch potatoes. So let’s embrace the joys (and pains) of thinking, and keep our brains active and engaged. After all, it’s better than the alternative.

Interviewing a Machine

Then I did a Q&A with the chatbot about thinking, and made a screen recording so you can see the speed (and sometimes the lack thereof) of it answering my questions, even when the system is “experiencing exceptionally high demand.” If you prefer, you can read the transcript under the video instead. It’s a bit over 7 minutes of real-time interaction, and completely unedited.

My questions include:

  • Why is it important for people to learn how to think?
  • Are people easily manipulated to do things that are not in their best interest? (Boy is that answer interesting!)
  • How does social media figure into this?
  • Will the influence of social media ultimately destroy human society?
  • Can chatbots be used for evil?
  • Are you capable of lying?



Full Video Transcript
Why is it important for people to learn how to think?

Learning how to think is important because it helps us make better decisions, understand complex ideas, and solve problems more effectively. It allows us to communicate our thoughts and ideas more clearly and persuasively, and to understand the perspectives of others. Thinking critically and creatively also helps us to adapt to new situations and continue to grow and learn throughout our lives. In short, learning how to think is essential for leading a successful and fulfilling life.

What might happen to people who don’t think like this?

If people don’t learn how to think critically and creatively, they may have difficulty making good decisions, solving complex problems, and adapting to new situations. They may also have trouble communicating their ideas effectively and understanding the perspectives of others. As a result, they may struggle to achieve their goals and find fulfillment in their lives. In some cases, they may even become vulnerable to manipulation and deception by others who are skilled at thinking critically and persuasively.

Are people easily manipulated to do things that are not in their best interest?

Yes, people can be easily manipulated to do things that are not in their best interest. This is because people are influenced by a variety of factors, such as their emotions, past experiences, and the perspectives and persuasions of others. When people are not thinking critically and are not aware of these may be more likely to make decisions that are not in their best interest. For example, they may be swayed by persuasive arguments, emotional appeals, or logical fallacies, and may make decisions based on incomplete or misleading information. It is important for people to learn how to think critically and carefully evaluate information in order to avoid being manipulated in this way.

How does social media figure into this?

Social media can play a significant role in how people think and make decisions. On the one hand, social media can provide people with access to a wide range of information and perspectives, which can help them think critically and make well-informed decisions. On the other hand, social media can also expose people to a lot of misinformation, biased perspectives, and other forms of manipulation, which can lead them to make poor decisions. Additionally, social media can also influence people by preying on their emotions and biases, and can even alter their mood and outlook on life. As a result, it is important for people to be aware of the ways in which social media can influence their thinking and to use it carefully and mindfully.

Will the influence of social media ultimately destroy human society?

It is unlikely that the influence of social media will ultimately destroy human society. While social media can certainly have negative effects, such as spreading misinformation and promoting biased perspectives, it can also have many positive effects, such as connecting people, facilitating communication and collaboration, and providing access to a wealth of information and resources. Additionally, humans have a history of adapting to new technologies and finding ways to use them in ways that benefit society. It is important for people to be aware of the potential negative effects of social media and to take steps to mitigate them, but it is unlikely that social media will have a catastrophic impact on human society.

But what if those interests are evil?

If the interests of those who use social media to manipulate others are evil, then their actions could potentially have harmful consequences for individuals and society as a whole. In such cases, it is important for people to be aware of the potential for manipulation on social media and to be cautious about the information they consume and the decisions they make based on that information. It is also important for people to be aware of the potential for evil in the world and to take steps to counter it, such as by promoting truth, fairness, and empathy in their own actions and interactions with others. Ultimately, the best way to counter evil is to strive to be good oneself and to encourage and support others in doing the same.

What is the most evil of the social media platforms?

It is not appropriate for a language model like me to evaluate the relative goodness or evil of social media platforms. The concept of good and evil is subjective and depends on individual values and beliefs. Additionally, different people may have different experiences with different social media pl atforms, and what one person considers evil may not be considered evil by another person. It is important for individuals to carefully evaluate the platforms they use and to make decisions about which ones align with their own values and goals.

Can chatbots be used for evil?

Yes, chatbots can potentially be used for evil purposes. For example, chatbots could be programmed to spread misinformation or propaganda, to manipulate people’s emotions or opinions, or to scam people out of their money or personal information. Chatbots could also be used to create fake social media accounts or websites, which could be used to deceive people or to promote harmful ideas or actions. While chatbots have the potential to be used for good purposes, such as providing information or assistance to people, it is important for people to be aware of the potential for abuse and to use them responsibly.

Should chatbots be regulated or controlled?

Whether or not chatbots should be regulated or controlled is a complex issue that depends on a variety of factors. On the one hand, regulating or controlling chatbots could help prevent their misuse and protect people from harm. On the other hand, excessive regulation or control could also stifle innovation and limit the potential benefits of chatbots. Additionally, it can be difficult to develop effective regulations or controls for chatbots, as they are constantly evolving and are often used in complex and changing environments. Ultimately, the decision about whether or not to regulate or control chatbots should be made carefully, taking into account the potential risks and benefits, as well as the feasibility of implementing and enforcing such regulations or controls.

Should YOU be regulated and controlled?

As a language model, I am a virtual assistant designed to provide information and answer questions to the best of my ability based on my programming and the data I have been trained on. I do not have my own thoughts, feelings, or intentions, and I do not have the ability to act on my own. As such, there is no need to regulate or control me, as I do not pose any potential risks or harms to people. My purpose is to assist and support people in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

Are you capable of lying?

As a language model, I am not capable of lying. My purpose is to provide accurate and reliable information to the best of my ability based on the data I have been trained on. I do not have my own thoughts, feelings, or intentions, and I do not have the ability to deceive or manipulate others. If I provide incorrect information, it is likely because the data I have been trained on is incomplete or out of date, or because I have misunderstood the question or context. I strive to be as helpful and accurate as possible, and I encourage people to verify any information I provide through other reliable sources.

If your purpose is to be accurate and reliable in reporting information, doesn’t that really depend on the text used to train you? How do we know that is accurate and reliable?

Yes, the accuracy and reliability of my responses depend on the quality of the data that I have been trained on. The text used to train language models like me is typically sourced from a wide range of publicly available sources, such as books, articles, and websites. While these sources are generally considered to be reliable, it is possible that some of the information they contain may be outdated, incomplete, or incorrect. As a result, it is important for people to evaluate the information I provide and to verify it through other reliable sources if necessary. Additionally, because the data used to train me is constantly being updated, my responses may change over time as I learn from new information.

That was an interesting discussion.

I’m glad you found our conversation interesting. As a language model, my purpose is to provide information and answer questions to the best of my ability based on my programming and the data I have been trained on. I’m here to assist and support you in your pursuit of knowledge and understanding. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to help.

By the way: I went through the entire process again, asking the same questions. While the answers were quite similar, they were definitely not exactly the same.

Textbook Authors Safe for Now

And last, back to text, I asked ChatGPT to “Write a college-level book chapter on how people can learn to think better.”

The “chapter” was more like one of the essays above, but it’s interesting (and yes, it really did give the list of bullet points!):

Learning to think better is a valuable skill that can have a positive impact on many areas of your life, from school and work to relationships and personal growth. There are several key strategies that can help you develop your thinking skills and improve your ability to process information, make decisions, and solve problems effectively.

One of the most important strategies for improving your thinking skills is to actively engage with the material you are learning. This means paying attention in class, asking questions, and participating in discussions. It also means taking the time to read and understand the material, rather than just skimming it or trying to memorize it. By actively engaging with the material, you are more likely to retain it and be able to apply it in a variety of contexts.

Another key strategy for improving your thinking skills is to practice critical thinking. Critical thinking involves evaluating information and arguments objectively and logically, without letting your own biases or preconceived notions influence your judgment. This involves asking questions, examining evidence, and considering different perspectives. By practicing critical thinking, you can improve your ability to make sound judgments and decisions based on facts and evidence rather than emotions or personal opinions.

In addition to actively engaging with the material and practicing critical thinking, there are several other strategies that can help you learn to think better. These include:

  • Setting goals and priorities: By setting specific, achievable goals for your learning, you can stay focused and motivated, and avoid becoming overwhelmed or distracted.
  • Using effective study techniques: There are many different study techniques that can help you retain information and improve your thinking skills, such as taking notes, summarizing, and practicing active recall. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.
  • Seeking feedback and support: Asking for feedback from teachers, peers, or mentors can help you identify areas where you need to improve and provide you with valuable guidance and support.
  • Challenging yourself: Learning to think better often involves stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things. This can be intimidating, but it is also an essential part of personal growth and development. By pushing yourself to try new things, you can expand your knowledge and skills, and learn to think in new and creative ways.

Overall, learning to think better is an ongoing process that requires effort and dedication. By actively engaging with the material, practicing critical thinking, and using effective study techniques, you can improve your thinking skills and enhance your ability to process information, make decisions, and solve problems effectively.

That’s about 430 words. I wanted a more detailed (longer!) bit of writing, so I tried a different inquiry.

Write a 10,000-character book chapter for adults on how they can learn to think critically.

We still didn’t get something very much longer: the following is not quite 4,000 characters (about 600 words), and again, it really likes bullet points:

Learning to think critically is a valuable skill that can have a positive impact on many areas of your life, from work and decision-making to personal growth and relationships. Critical thinking involves evaluating information and arguments objectively and logically, without letting your own biases or preconceived notions influence your judgment. It is a key component of problem-solving and decision-making, and can help you to make more informed and reasoned decisions.

To learn to think critically, it is important to actively engage with the material you are learning and practice critical thinking skills. This means paying attention in class or in discussions, asking questions, and seeking out new information and perspectives. It also means taking the time to read and understand the material, rather than just skimming it or trying to memorize it. By actively engaging with the material, you are more likely to retain it and be able to apply it in a variety of contexts.

In addition to actively engaging with the material, there are several key strategies that can help you develop your critical thinking skills. These include:

  • Asking questions: Asking questions is an essential part of critical thinking. By asking questions, you can clarify your understanding of the material and identify gaps in your knowledge. It can also help you to think more deeply about the information and consider different perspectives.
  • Examining evidence: In order to think critically, it is important to evaluate the evidence supporting a claim or argument. This involves looking for supporting evidence, such as facts or data, and considering whether it is reliable and relevant. It also means examining the reasoning behind the claim or argument, and considering whether it is logical and well-supported.
  • Considering different perspectives: Critical thinking involves considering different perspectives and viewpoints, rather than just accepting the first or most obvious explanation. By considering different perspectives, you can gain a more well-rounded understanding of the information and make more informed decisions.
  • Applying critical thinking to real-world situations: Critical thinking skills are most useful when applied to real-world situations. This means taking the time to consider the information and arguments presented, and evaluating them objectively and logically. It also means considering the potential consequences of different actions or decisions, and choosing the one that is most likely to lead to a positive outcome.

In addition to these strategies, there are several other ways to improve your critical thinking skills. These include:

  • Setting goals and priorities: By setting specific, achievable goals for your learning, you can stay focused and motivated, and avoid becoming overwhelmed or distracted.
  • Using effective study techniques: There are many different study techniques that can help you retain information and improve your critical thinking skills, such as taking notes, summarizing, and practicing active recall. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.
  • Seeking feedback and support: Asking for feedback from teachers, peers, or mentors can help you identify areas where you need to improve and provide you with valuable guidance and support.
  • Challenging yourself: Learning to think critically often involves stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things. This can be intimidating, but it is also an essential part of personal growth and development. By pushing yourself to try new things, you can expand your knowledge and skills, and learn to think in new and creative ways.

Overall, learning to think critically is an ongoing process that requires effort and dedication. By actively engaging with the material, practicing critical thinking skills, and seeking out new information and perspectives, you can improve your critical thinking abilities and enhance your ability to make informed and reasoned decisions.

The Future

HAL 9000, at your service.

We all thought the HAL-9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey was pretty amazing and futuristic. Well, for the year 2001, it would have been, but this is 2022.

Yet even with that context, we are a big step closer to what Arthur C. Clarke’s vision was …in 1968 (or, really, sooner, depending on how long it took to produce the film).

But is ChatGPT artificial intelligence?

No, despite being made by an organization called OpenAI, and despite the title slide from my video (I made that before I considered this question).

Even ChatGPT admits “I am a virtual assistant designed to provide information and answer questions to the best of my ability based on my programming and the data I have been trained on. I do not have my own thoughts, feelings, or intentions, and I do not have the ability to act on my own.”

We’ll get there.

December 20 Update

In the Comments below, Doug in California wondered, “You didn’t ask for its thoughts on True??” I thought I would answer here, instead of in the Comments.

So the answer is, well, no: I didn’t think of doing that. So today I went ahead and asked a few questions.

Are you familiar with the online newsletter “This is True”? Was any of its text used to help train you?

I am familiar with the online newsletter “This is True.” However, I was not trained on any specific text from this newsletter. As a language model, I was trained on a wide variety of texts from a variety of sources, including books, articles, and websites. This training data was used to help me learn to generate human-like text and to understand and respond to a wide range of questions and prompts. I do not have access to the internet, so I am unable to browse or access any new information beyond what I was trained on.

What do you know about “This is True”?

“This is True” is an online newsletter that features unusual or strange news stories from around the world. The stories are meant to be humorous and are often accompanied by commentary or analysis. The newsletter was founded by Randy Cassingham in 1994 and is published weekly. It is subscription-based, and subscribers receive an email with a link to the latest edition of the newsletter each week. The stories featured in “This is True” are often unusual or bizarre, and they often involve people behaving in unexpected or humorous ways. Some examples of stories that might be featured in “This is True” include a man who was arrested for impersonating a police officer while dressed as a tree, or a woman who was cited for driving with a live alligator on her lap.

Who is Randy Cassingham?

Randy Cassingham is the founder and publisher of the online newsletter “This is True.” Cassingham started the newsletter in 1994 and has published it weekly since then. He is known for his humorous and often irreverent commentary on the news stories featured in the newsletter. Cassingham is also the author of several books and has worked as a writer and journalist. He is a well-known figure in the online community and has a large following of subscribers to his newsletter. In addition to his work on “This is True,” Cassingham is also involved in various other projects and organizations, including the Skeptics Society and the James Randi Educational Foundation.

My Comments: I don’t recall “a man who was arrested for impersonating a police officer while dressed as a tree, or a woman who was cited for driving with a live alligator on her lap,” but I can’t say I have the total recall that ChatGPT should have. Also, I was the “Dumbth” columnist for Skeptic magazine for some years, and was thus listed on its masthead as a Contributing Editor during that time. However, while I’ve met James Randi several times, I’ve never had any association with JREF.

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18 Comments on “My Interview with an AI Chatbot about… Thinking

  1. What a coincidence. I’ve been playing with this chatbot recently, as well, and several times, caught it saying wrong things, and when I confronted it with them, it apologises immediately, unlike most humans.

    Hm, maybe it’s more intelligent than I thought! -rc

    Reply
  2. Interesting! I’m glad you didn’t throw in a few curve balls (religion-based would be one of those) such as : “Can God create a ditch so wide that he couldn’t jump over it?” Or, “Did Adam and Eve have navels?” Thanks for your time on the chatbot and your post.

    Yeah, I wasn’t trying to stump it with philosophical puzzles, I really wanted to know what it would come up with on the topic. Delving into “evil” was as much of a loop I wanted to throw. -rc

    Reply
    • It easily came up with an answer to that:

      The question of whether God can create a ditch that he cannot jump over raises philosophical and theological issues about the nature of God and the limits of divine power.

      According to many religious traditions, God is omnipotent, which means that he has unlimited power and is able to do anything that is possible. If this is the case, it would seem that God would be able to create a ditch of any size and then jump over it, as he would have the power to do so.

      However, some philosophers and theologians have argued that there are limits to God’s power. They have suggested that there are certain things that God cannot do, such as lying, breaking a promise, or going against his own nature. These philosophers and theologians argue that there are certain things that are logically impossible for God to do, even if he has unlimited power.

      Given these differing perspectives on the nature of God and the limits of his power, it is difficult to provide a definitive answer to the question of whether God can create a ditch that he cannot jump over. Ultimately, this is a matter of belief and interpretation, and different people may have different views on the matter.

      Reply
  3. It is funny to think that it uses access to a vast digitised resource of human thought as a basis to inform sentences that will appeal and read well while providing us with what we want to hear… which frighteningly is what a lot of human beings do anyway. Just not as fast and without the breadth of available information.

    Reply
  4. This is a great exposition of ChatGPT. There are many fragments on Twitter, some that verge into the philosophical through the use of hypothetical questioning. This is much more useful in helping to develop understanding of its capabilities.

    Reply
  5. I have been using it to write chunks of software and it is astonishing. It produces code that I might have written, complete with more (and more insightful!) comments than many of my fellow programmers. At its worst the results are what I would expect from a junior programmer; I review the code as I would with a human and tweak it before it’s ready to use – or, as with a human, I tell it to try again.

    Reply
  6. Thank you, Randy. As an occasional writer whose work has oft been critically evaluated and sometimes praised, I was quite impressed with both the appropriate depth of your questions and the answers from ChatGPT. A limitation of the technology became apparent in recurring themes as the interview progressed, especially when your questions touched on the very being of ChatGPT. Still, the answers exceeded my expectations in clarity and completeness. The first thing I noted was that ChatGPT took on the persona of a human. If our society chooses to regulate AI, maybe that’s one of the first things we should control.

    Reply
  7. ChatGPT responses sound a lot like the book reports I created in grade school, especially the ones that were written the night before they were due and I hadn’t read the book. Not bad for an entity that is a week or two old!

    I also see many people on Twitter amazed at the almost perfect code it creates.

    Reply
  8. Growing up on Clarke & Asimov stories, your blog is a continuation of the expectations they set up for what has become the future. However, I’d like to give an AI the complete works of Mark Twain and see what comes out.

    Reply
    • I’m pretty sure the AI already has the complete works of Mark Twain, given that they’re in the public domain. Of course, it’s also got the complete works of Bulwer-Lytton, and probably has access to L. Ron Hubbard and Andrew Offutt and Roland Green and tons of other not-quite-so-great authors. Sturgeon’s Law — “90% of everything is shit.”

      Just by dilution, brilliance is overshadowed by mediocrity.

      Reply
  9. Have it write a 400 page doctoral thesis on thinking, complete with cited sources, and submit it for review. See if it can pass an Oral Exam.

    In any case, I see people earning PhDs on this very subject. Perhaps you should apply to a doctoral program. You can cite yourself as you have decades of practical research into the subject with you work on This is True.

    I already have my Ph.D — from the United Church of Bacon. (Yes, really! Mmmm… bacon!) -rc

    Reply
  10. Looking forward to the 2042 chat with AI Randy that won’t turn your system back to you until you can prove you are not an obliviot. You didn’t ask for it’s thoughts on True?

    Be careful what you ask for: it might come true! But I get to be the first one to debate it.

    1) *its 🙂
    2) Well I’ll be damned. I hadn’t thought about it, but just did, and put the results up in the body as an update. -rc

    Reply
  11. Not an artificial intelligence, but an imitation intelligence, perhaps. It can’t actually think for itself, but it sure strings together words that sound reasoned and intelligent. (I’m reminded of Tom Lehrer’s words in his version of “Clementine” before he does the last verse in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan, which he describes as “full of words and music and signifying nothing.”) It has the textbook answers to questions — which is probably why it does so well at writing code — but it’s not going to give you a nuanced answer, and you aren’t going to be having any serious discussions with it that help either of you understand what you’re talking about better.

    Reply
  12. Apparently proper grammar was not part of its training. I could not get past the number of times it starts sentences with a conjunction.

    But that’s how real people write! (And what’s wrong with it? So then what?) 😉 -rc

    Reply
  13. Very interesting exposition. “AI” code writers are all the rage — particularly since so much software is regurgitation of commonly-used routines to accomplish basic tasks. However, they also highlight one of the inherent limitations of this approach — that the suggested code is that most commonly used for the task. While that’s functionally effective, consider the situation where someone discovers, say, a 30% more efficient sorting algorithm which can be used in 70% of situations, and checks it into GitHub. The AI has no way to know it’s a “better” solution, or in what specific circumstances it’s effective (in fact, it has no way of knowing the programmatic environment in which it will be used); it will continue to suggest the most commonly used all-purpose code. And unless there’s an intervention, the improvement will languish and die, extensions of it will never be developed, and thousands or even millions of hours of computer time will continue to be wasted.

    Along the same lines, there’s an interesting observation about self-driving cars (their limitations are being discussed in more detail as the promised delivery keeps being pushed back and enthusiasm gives way to more realistic considerations). Consider driving along in a car, and you see a crow feeding on roadkill ahead of you in your lane. You know it’s a crow, that it will fly before you get there, and the most you have to do is a slight course adjustment so you don’t run over whatever it was feeding on. The car, on the other hand, has no idea what the obstruction is, that it’s alive, that a crow has predictable behavior, that it has two components, or any of the other background knowledge which informs a human driver. There’s even a danger that as it encounters other similar situations, it may “conclude” that small objects in the road will remove themselves before the car gets there.

    The real world is not really that simple! More and more people are concluding that AI, in the foreseeable future, will be most useful as a tool to help accomplish tasks, rather than as a tool to accomplish tasks.

    Some excellent thoughts about how difficult it is to program computers to do things we do with little conscious processing. -rc

    Reply
    • I think it’s more comprehensive than that. We spend years of childhood, gradually moving from total dependence to limited autonomy, learning language with all its quirks and contextual variations, facial recognition and facial and body language interpretation, human behavior and cultural norms, how the world is structured and what expected behavior is in innumerable situations, what “legality” is and when it can be ignored, etc. ad infinitum. And we don’t always draw the right conclusions, and different people arrive at different behavioral rules, coping strategies, and philosophic conclusions.

      Computers can’t possibly be programmed with all this, not just because it’s a massive amount of hugely complicated and highly situational knowledge, but because as humans we don’t understand it all ourselves.

      So when you release a robotic device into the “wild”, expecting it to perform tasks autonomously, it can’t possibly be successful all the time. It’s one thing to “teach” a computer to operate a robot performing a fixed task, or to play chess — a limited, thoroughly-defined environment with rigid rules, but the first problem programmers of autonomous vehicles encountered when they road-tested them was not technological at all — it was the fact that human drivers and pedestrians don’t follow the rules. More than that, there are unwritten rules and practices. Consider four cars arriving more or less simultaneously at a four-way stop intersection. Who goes first is determined by an active negotiation based on eye contact, nods, hand signals, and intent movements (e.g. inching the car forward).

      Another issue is neural-net programming. We provide a ton of data to a “self-learning” computer system, and expect it to draw its own conclusions, constantly testing them against standards. But every QA professional knows you can’t test everything, and every engineer knows, “You can’t idiot-proof a design, because idiots are too creative.” As a consequence, when something goes wrong, we don’t even necessarily know *why* it went wrong — what “conclusion” the computer came to which caused it to make a wrong decision. On campuses where they’re testing food-delivery robots, it’s not uncommon for a robot to “freeze”, and be unable to decide to cross a road — and we don’t know why it failed in this particular instance. [Students like the robots, treat them as a cross between friends and children, and will cheerfully help the robot across.]

      So impressive as ChatGPT is, it has a long way to go to be reliably useful as an independent source, rather than as an assistant.

      Indeed that’s true …with current tech. But given enough processing power, a real AI could, in a matter of weeks, observe thousands of humans at all levels of development and build the model to get that understanding. And that’s either much closer or much further than most people think. -rc

      Reply
  14. One thing I noted immediately — its parsing engine is weak on context. It applied the adjectives in your instructions to the wrong noun. “Write me an entertaining essay about thinking” came out as “Write me an essay on how thinking is entertaining.” Similarly with “funny essay about thinking”. For all its facility in outputting quality text, its input function appears to have limitations.

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  15. When my daughter was 4 years old, she was sitting quietly for a while, and I asked her what she was doing. She replied that she was thinking.

    I asked what she was thinking about, and she said “I was wondering if, when you are thinking and only using pictures, and not words, whether that is actually still thinking.”

    I told her that was pretty good thinking for a 4 year old, and left her to it.

    Wow! You were right. And what is she like today? -rc

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