Data Doesn’t Suffer
Apparently, ChatGPT is coming for us all. You’ve heard of ChatGPT, yes? The artificially “intelligent” content creator that can spit out essays and website content and legal briefs and who knows what else based on a simple prompt. It’s changed how universities teach (I have several professorial type friends who say it’s become a massive problem on campus in the few short months it’s been out). And, apparently, it’s also going to do to white collar work what automation did to things like manufacturing. Robots have been able to put cars together for a while. Now, it seems, they can also churn out the content that those of us who sit behind desks buzzing importantly around on our computers produce. Who knows, perhaps, in the end the only jobs left will be to manage the intelligence that is managing us.
It will not surprise anyone to learn that I have a rather dim view of ChatGPT. “Intelligence” is a property of purposive agents. It’s not an algorithm. I thought about writing a blistering paragraph or two outlining why I feel this way, but then I saw the most recent edition of Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files did it better than I could. Mark, from Christchurch, NZ, asked ChatGPT to write a song in the style of Nick Cave and wanted to know what he thought of the result. Cave’s whole response is worth reading, but I was especially drawn to this part:
This song sucks.
What ChatGPT is, in this instance, is replication as travesty. ChatGPT may be able to write a speech or an essay or a sermon or an obituary, but it cannot create a genuine song. It could perhaps in time create a song that is, on the surface, indistinguishable from an original, but it will always be a replication, a kind of burlesque.
Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer. ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend. ChatGPT’s melancholy role is that it is destined to imitate and can never have an authentic human experience, no matter how devalued and inconsequential the human experience may in time become.
Well, the only thing I object to in that is the inclusion of the word “sermon” above. I say this only partly in (self-interested) jest. I would say that pretty much everything Cave says about the creation of a song also goes into a good sermon or a piece of writing, or anything I create that touches on anything that ultimately matters.
But, yeah. Algorithms don’t feel. Can’t feel. Will never feel. Consequently, ChatGPT can only ever be a hollow imitation, a greedy parasite on all the things that make human experience and communication and art and beauty real and worth striving for. This is what I’ll tell myself, at any rate, when the robots come for me.