By Jim Norman
The more the news of the day leaves me bereft of any hope that intelligent life on this Earth will prevail, the more I find myself wondering if artificial intelligence, or AI, would be any better.
As a sometime artist, I was deeply interested in a presentation at a recent Ethical Culture Gathering by member Paulo Ribeiro on the use of AI applications like DALL-E to produce original art.
Would it be ethical?
I was also troubled. I wondered: Would it be ethical to produce art in this way? Would it be forgery, or plagiarism? Would it be a social benefit to interfere with the ability of real artists to make a living, by using an application like DALL-E to generate publishable art at no cost?
I had no trouble at all coming to a quick conclusion: It may be inevitable, but it’s terrible! Bordering on evil, I thought, and possibly even over the line!
I put it to the test
But wait: Let me first check this out. Is it really possible for an AI program to replace a real artist? So I signed up for DALL-E (thanks, Paulo!) and put it to work. I ordered it to produce a watercolor in the style of Winslow Homer, depicting sun rays breaking through lifting storm clouds in coastal Maine.
At right is what DALL-E came up with.
I am relieved to report that it is premature to think there’s anything to worry about, for now.
No sooner than I was able to ease my mind over this application of AI, along comes something called ChatGPT, an AI invention that promises to produce original content that reads like it came from the mind and keyboard of a flesh-and-blood writer — in complete sentences and well-constructed paragraphs, no less!
A Reddit user ordered ChatGPT to solve the problem of a peanut butter sandwich stuck in a VCR player, written as a verse in the King James version of the Bible:
“And it came to pass that a man was troubled by a peanut butter sandwich, for it had been placed within his VCR, and he knew not how to remove it,” ChatGPT responded. “And he cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘Oh, Lord, how can I remove this sandwich from my VCR, for it is stuck fast and will not budge?’ And the Lord spoke unto him, saying, ‘Fear not, my child, for I shall guide thy hand and show thee the way.’”
Authoritative biblical instruction
Finally, after authoritative biblical instruction, the application issued a lordly command: “Verily I say unto thee, seek not to put thy peanut butter sandwiches in thy VCR, for it is not a suitable place for such things. Rather, keep thy sandwiches in thy refrigerator or on thy plate, where they belong. And the man heeded the Lord’s words, and from that day forth, he kept his sandwiches in their proper place, and was saved from trouble and woe. Amen.”
So, I thought, what if I were to order ChatGPT to save me the trouble of writing my monthly column in Ethical Focus?
“Write a 400-word essay for Ethical Focus, a publication of the Ethical Culture Society, exploring the ethical considerations of using a chatbot like ChatGPT to write an essay for publication,” I wrote.
‘Something seems to have gone wrong’
In due course, this is what I got back: “Hmm…something seems to have gone wrong. Maybe try me again in a little bit.”
So, I did, and I received this: “An error occurred. If this issue persists please contact us through our help center at help.openai.com.” A third attempt brought this: “Request timed out.”
Now, don’t get me wrong: I still feel that AI represents a grave potential threat to real thinking human beings, but for the next few minutes, anyway, we don’t have much to worry about.
Do we have enough ‘real thinking human beings’?
On reflection, however, I realize that the premise of my optimism is based on the continued existence of real thinking human beings. And along comes the news that a disgraced former president has offered to sell digital files of photoshopped images depicting himself in superhero poses and costumes, for $99 a pop, payable in cryptocurrency. Worse, the offering has sold out, and a secondary market has developed in which some buyers have been willing to spend as much as $12,000 for a single image!
I do wonder about that “real thinking human being” thing.
Jim Norman is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.