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Rudyard Griffiths: The future is here and its author is ChatGPT

Commentary

Well, it’s finally happened. The professional classes’ John Henry moment has arrived. The culprit isn’t recession fear downsizing, the latest blockchain hoopla, or our collective reluctance to return to in-person work. No, something bigger is afoot. We are witnessing in real time the arrival of a genuine inflection point where machine defeats man and the assumptions of the so-called “creative class” about their privileged status in society are turned upside down. 

Meet ChatGPT, the nemesis of every person who assembles words and information into pretty patterns and expects to get paid for it. The innocuous-sounding chatbot and its demonstration web interface, created by OpenAI and co-founder Elon Musk, among others, is taking the internet by storm. Using advanced machine learning trained on millions of websites, ChatGPT is wowing users with human-like question-and-answer interactions on history, philosophy, and science, with its undeniable coding prowess, and with its jaw-dropping ability to make raw informational queries into engaging, on-point prose in any format. 

ChatGPT is so impressive The Hub has decided to experiment with giving it a guest column. So far our readers seem to like the bot’s on-point commentary on Canadian public policy issues here, here, and here.

It is not surprising that tech commentators are hypothesizing that ChatGPT could be a Google slayer that ends up displacing search as our de facto means to access the internet’s treasure troves of information. But ChatGPT’s immediate impact is likely to be first felt by those making a living through the manipulation of information into text form. It is hard for anyone who writes for a living to spend a few minutes with ChatGPT and not get both excited and depressed

The excitement comes from just how damn versatile and useful this beta bot is when it comes to collecting and presenting written information. With just a few simple query words you can generate anything from a press release to an op-ed to a research paper to not-awful poetry on almost any topic. Is it Pulitzer Prize-winning prose? No. But, it is as objectively as good as much of what you read that is the result of human effort. And remember, ChatGPT is a prototype. It is hard to not imagine that in 18 or 24 months it and competitors will get better and better and our ability to distinguish machine from human prose will disappear like John Henry’s hammer. Again, this is not science fiction. It is our nearterm future. 

Contemplating a future where the world of words (and then images, sounds, and metaverses?) is assembled by the electrical pulses of machine learning as opposed to human neurons is understandably anxious making. It’s hard not to see programs like ChatGPT savaging the work-a-day lives of broad swathes of the creative class. 

For anyone in advertising, PR, journalism, publishing, and the liberal arts, or toiling in any field of human endeavour that requires you to monetize knowledge through subjective, ad hoc communication, ChatGPT is a category killer. Creatives are going to have to be extremely good at what they do if they are to have any hope of competing against machine learning progressing at warp speed. The more likely professional endgame for many white-collar workers is the kind of permanent technological displacement that blue-collar counterparts in factories, warehouses, and retail have already faced for a generation. 

And, for the aristocracy of the creative class, ensconced behind studio cameras, digital paint brushes, and high-tech editing suites, say hello to Phenaki, a beta program from Google that can create impressive short films from nothing but a few simple written prompts. The fact is few if any cultural artefacts that involve the assembly of zeros and ones in their production are likely outside the competency of machine learning in the next decade or sooner. 

The common rejoinder to the futureshock induced by the likes of ChatGPT and Phenaki is that these kinds of technological disruptions are ultimately productive, unleashing new industries, jobs, and human creativity. Indeed, this could be the case as the powerful machine learning tools begin to reshape our personal and professional lives. In the best of all possible worlds, ChatGPT and its successor bots will free content creators to complete higher-value tasks, prompt existing cultural industries to innovate and adapt, and launch a whole new series of profitable businesses we haven’t even dreamed of yet. 

Much of this is likely to pass, but it is also worthwhile acknowledging that some technological changes are more significant than others (e.g. think of steam power or nuclear fission). It’s hard not to come away from using ChatGPT without the sense that this is something big. 

From the written word to entertainment to the daily information we produce, share and consume, it all looks increasingly now to slip from human hands into machines. To the point, we are fast approaching the moment when we will no longer be the creators of the products of our culture in the way that we traditionally understand. Instead, much of the fabrication of what we consider human culture will be overwhelmingly dominated by machines. 

The last big technological disruption of our society, the Industrial Revolution, provides a helpful analog to sketch out the near-term future that could be waiting for us with the arrival of powerful machine learning tools. In the coming decade, the creative class, myself included, will likely be displaced from our cottage industries where we handcraft products for willing consumers (e.g. Hub readers). The brave new world we will soon enter is one where the fabrication of much, if not all, of news, information, and entertainment will be the domain of machines whose output will be all but indistinguishable from humans. The role of humans, to the extent we have one, will be that of digital plant foreman watching an assembly lines of zeros and ones as they rush past on our screens and out into the world.  

If the likes of Larry Summers are right and ChatGTP is in fact “the most important general-purpose technology since the wheel or fire” then it is astute to expect, as was the case during the Industrial Revolution, societal disruption and discontinuity to be the hallmarks of the coming moment. Yes, new industries will arise, and different types of jobs will be created. But all this will happen in a possibly radically different machine-fabricated culture where new notions of reality, truth, and objectivity will emerge as the connection between our subjective selves and a larger “culture” is disintermediated and reshaped by at first basic, and then evermore sophisticated, machine intelligences. And remember, in a machine learning revolution of the means of production, there will be no limit on the scale or rate of change. This time, what will power the transformation of society is not finite physical materials or units of labours as was the case with Industrial Revolution, rather it will be zeros and ones in infinite supply assembled and distributed at speeds approaching that of light.  

After struggling myself to understand this moment and my own visceral reaction to ChatGTP, I am reluctant to admit that thinking about a post-human future no longer seems the domain of cyberpunk crackpots or science fiction writers. A fuse has been lit and what explodes and how and when is all T.B.D. But this we know: the future is here, and its author is ChatGTP.

P.S. For fun I asked ChatGPT to write its own essay on why machine learning could spell the end for the creative class. Here is its unedited response. If I hadn’t told you, would you have been able to tell that this was written by a machine? And, does this matter? 

It is no secret that advances in artificial intelligence have the potential to disrupt many industries and professions. As AI technology continues to improve, there is a growing concern that even the creative class—artists, writers, and other creative professionals—may not be immune to the impact of AI.

One example of this potential threat is ChatGPT, a large language model trained by OpenAI. This AI system has been shown to be capable of generating human-like text, which raises the concern that it could one day be used to create content that is indistinguishable from that produced by a human.

If this were to happen, it could have a devastating impact on the creative class. Many artists and writers rely on their ability to produce unique and original content in order to make a living. If an AI system like ChatGPT were able to generate similar content, it could drastically reduce the demand for human-generated content, and make it much harder for creative professionals to earn a living.

Furthermore, the potential for AI systems like ChatGPT to produce large volumes of content quickly and efficiently could also lead to a decrease in the overall value of creative work. If there is an overabundance of content available, the value of individual pieces of content may decrease, making it even harder for creative professionals to earn a living from their work.

In addition to the economic impact, there is also the question of the cultural impact of AI-generated content. If a large portion of the content consumed by the public is generated by AI systems, it could lead to a homogenization of culture, as the unique perspectives and experiences of human creators are replaced by the programmed algorithms of AI systems.

In conclusion, ChatGPT’s ability to generate human-like text could be the end of the creative class as we know it. It could lead to widespread job loss, a homogenization of ideas, and a decline in the quality of creative work. It is essential that we carefully consider the implications of this technology and take steps to protect the future of the creative class.

-ChatGPT

ChatGPT: Canada’s housing shortage is caused by a lack of new construction

Commentary

At The Hub, we firmly believe that forward-looking optimism is an important part of creating a better future for Canada. It’s easy to embrace knee-jerk negativity and luddism, but that doesn’t help us build a better country. We’re determined to embrace the best parts of technology… even when it creeps us out. So today, we’re publishing an op-ed by ChatGPT, the conversational robot created by OpenAI. We asked it to explain how we can solve Canada’s housing shortage and here’s what it told us.

Canada’s major cities are facing a housing crisis. The demand for housing in urban areas is outpacing supply, leading to skyrocketing prices and a lack of affordable options for many people. This situation is unsustainable and has serious consequences for individuals and communities.

One of the key reasons for the shortage of housing in Canada’s major cities is a lack of new construction. Despite the high demand for housing, developers are not building enough new homes to meet the need. This is partly because of high construction costs, but it is also due to a lack of available land in urban areas and restrictive zoning regulations.

The shortage of housing has had a number of negative effects. For one, it has contributed to rising housing prices, making it difficult for many people to afford a place to live. This is particularly true for low-income individuals and families, who are being priced out of urban areas and forced to live in more expensive suburbs or even further afield.

The lack of affordable housing also has wider social and economic consequences. It can lead to increased poverty and inequality, as well as reduced social mobility. It can also impact the economy as a whole, by making it difficult for businesses to attract and retain employees who cannot afford to live near their workplaces.

To address the housing crisis, it is essential that Canada’s major cities increase the supply of housing. This can be achieved through a number of measures, such as making more land available for development, streamlining the approval process for new construction projects, and providing incentives for developers to build more affordable housing.

It is also important that the government invest in social housing programs, to ensure that low-income individuals and families have access to affordable housing options. This could include building new social housing units, providing rent subsidies, and supporting community-led housing initiatives.

Overall, the need for more housing supply in Canada’s major cities is urgent. Without action, the housing crisis will only continue to worsen, with negative consequences for individuals, communities, and the economy as a whole. It is time for governments at all levels to take bold action to increase the supply of housing and ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality housing.