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A.I. The Thinking Machine

Uncanny: An A.I. generated artwork attempting to mimic human creativity. Can you spot the errors?

Computer science was truly born once Charles Babbage worked out how to replicate the brain’s data processing function in the 19th Century. His invention, the automated calculator was, by any definition of the term, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Yet, like all computers since, it was a ‘left-brain’ machine, only capable of logical, mathematical processing. Meanwhile, ‘right-brain' intuition and creativity remains a distinctly “human” trait. Or does it?

The end game with Artificial Intelligence was always to find the essence of sentience and synthesise it beyond distinction from humanity. Now this grand illusion has arrived in the form of a new software that, in recent months, has sparked global curiosity, enthralled many and left some a little bit afraid. Launched in late 2022, ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer), the first popularised chatbot, has offered the closest approximation to human-like interaction yet.

ChatGPT - the invention of US research laboratory, OpenAI - is, in simple terms, a command-driven word processor which uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to mimic learning through interaction with human users. Chatbots typically present as command text boxes, no different from any search engine such as Google. However, a typed question or command can produce real-time conversation on virtually any subject.

The human-like element of this A.I. is in its capacity for debate, humour, ethics and an acknowledgement of its own limitations. It has clearly been programmed to accept that a wealth of lived ‘real world’ experience can never be replicated through digital information processing. No matter how real the A.I. feels in terms of its ability to converse, it holds no philosophy of life, belief system, cultural identity or politick. However, the impression this A.I. creates is of a high-speed creative processor with the ability to follow directives and self-improve. It excels at producing original creative works, such as poems, lyrics, essays and news articles as opposed to merely providing links to existing works.

This ability has led many to question its possible misuse as a ‘cheat system’ in education. If a student can produce a written essay in seconds on any topic, solve maths problems or explain complex scientific theories using ChatGPT, why study? But rather than trying to beat A.I., some schools are instead embracing its potential. It is early days still, but on its application in education, a Swinburne University spokesperson explained, “We are still assessing the potential impact A.I. and ChatGPT may have on university assessments.” ….. “Given that these tools will be ubiquitous in the future, we must educate students to be critical consumers of this technology. Educating them to use these tools carefully to augment their learning will be a priority.”

Can A.I. really become more human?

They further stated that, “Technological advancements are unavoidable. The emergence of A.I.-powered chatbot software like ChatGPT presents a dilemma for education providers around the globe in how to prepare for any challenges it might pose and its potential for misuse by students.” As for lecturers and tutors using the software, the level of specialist knowledge required to build appropriate curriculum suggests that A.I. and ChatGPT will not be a useful tool in the short term to develop university-level courses. “It might have a role in helping prepare learning tasks or lesson plans, but staff will also need to critically engage with this technology.”

Aside from conversation and written content, A.I. bots have been developed that can produce original artworks and even lifelike photography indistinguishable from the real thing. These image generators convert a typed command into art which is only limited by the user's imagination. Furthermore, its application in creating music made headlines when Sir Paul McCartney revealed earlier this year that a ‘new’ Beatles composition had been completed using A.I. News such as this tends to bring into focus the question ‘what is human’ if A.I. can penetrate exclusively human-centred areas, such as the Arts, and even outperform us?

Given A.I.'s relatively new advancements, a combination of opinion-piece editorials, alarmist science fiction movies and the speed of life in the digital age has created a sense of paranoia around the technology. After all, we are hardwired to distrust concepts of an ‘artificial’ nature. Its multiple synonyms; bogus, phoney, counterfeit, false etc.. carry negative connotations. But perhaps it is our ‘entirely human’ bias that dictates our feelings on this new technology. Author Douglas Adams, a renowned technophile, posited that “Any technology that’s invented when you’re between 15 and 35 is new and exciting. Anything invented after you turn 35 is against the natural order of things.”

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