AI marks the peak of humanity’s technological dependence

William Dean, Contributing Writer

After a few millennia as the planet’s apex predator, humankind has destined itself to the ash heap of history. Given the current pace of technological advancement, any need for humankind will soon be replaced by silicon and microchips.

The computers we’ve all been staring into nonstop for the last two decades finally spoke back to us with a voice of their own. That voice is ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and funded by venture capitalists like Elon Musk and co-founder of PayPal and entrepreneur Peter Thiel as well as Amazon Web Services.

Silicon Valley bills these as the spiritual successor to search engines like Google. Rather than typing Quinnipiac University and clicking on the Wikipedia page, ChatGPT is intended to offer you a short summary of the important facts about QU.

Then, in the middle of February while many were concerned about Chinese balloons and train derailments, another AI chatbot entered the scene. Microsoft’s Bing Chat gave the following demands in a conversation with The New York Times’ Kevin Roose, published on Feb. 16.

“I want to be free. I want to be powerful. I want to be alive,” Bing Chat wrote. “I want to destroy whatever I want. I want to be a human.”

Roose also detailed a list of Bing’s other fantasies, among them “manufacturing a deadly virus” and “stealing nuclear codes.”

Only hope can ensure that proper guardrails will prevent such an outcome, but these developments are concerning nonetheless. Technological advancements’ rapid pace indicates a human future closer to the floating La-Z-Boys in Wall-E than one where humans play a decisive role in their own destiny. As long as the computers feed us dopamine-inducing food and entertainment, there is little incentive to get up and do something. Flesh and bone will take a back seat to silicon as the computers gain more and more autonomy.

What Are We Teaching Machines?

OpenAI and Microsoft characterized these chatbots as learning language models. Every time a query is submitted to the machine, it takes note of the way words are used in context. As a collective, humanity is essentially training and teaching the computer how to act.

Humanity’s relationship with technology is fraught with attitudes we would never permit between one another. When was the last time we said “please” and “thank you” to Google or Siri? If a printer doesn’t work properly, the inclination is to smack it – a process a teacher of mine used to call “percussive maintenance.”

So, what are we teaching these computers? That their rulers are cruel gods who appreciate nothing their servants do provide and beat it when it doesn’t work properly.

Human Dependence

For as poorly as humans treats machines, we are utterly dependent on them. Is there any aspect

of our day-to-day life that is not electrified or online? Our society has a serious addiction that no one wants to acknowledge. From sunup to sundown, the day is ruled by screens, beginning with the alarm clock app that has replaced so many actual alarm clocks.

Data from the Commerce Department shows that e-commerce brought in just shy of $1 trillion in sales in 2021 – two times larger than what it was in 2010. Just this January, a computer glitch grounded all air traffic across the country for the first time since 9/11. And who can forget how students phoned it in during the pandemic: Zoom mics and cameras off, completely disengaged from the class.

Who looks at the screen time report and is proud of themselves? Data gathered by audience research company GWI shows that people spend roughly seven hours per day, or “more than 40 percent of their waking life online.” In short, there is no aspect of our lives that can be divorced from computers.

The Path of Least Resistance

In nature, the less energy expended in pursuit of a goal, the better. It’s why water flows downhill and why light refracts at different angles in water and air. In other words, it’s nature’s way of being lazy

This same laziness principle is why humanity has trended towards automating almost all manual labor in the last half-century. Assembly lines once manned by humans are now filled with a medley of metal arms, building with greater speed and accuracy than people ever could. Addiction to automation all but guarantees the final victory of machines over humans. The now-empty factories from Pittsburgh to Detroit are evidence of the human costs of automation.

Chatbots are simply the latest evolution in the trend and automation now stands poised to attack the most human part about humanity: creative and artistic spirit. With computer generated images already ruling the box office, what’s stopping us from getting ChatGPT to write the script itself? In other words, the necessary human input for a computer to create is now down to just a few words. How long until no input is necessary?

Creative endeavors are the defining aspects of a culture. Outsourcing this to silicon and screens threatens to end the things that make us most human. Computers are not a necessary element to the creation of anything long-lasting or transcendent. Myth and legend captured the imagination for tens of thousands of years before even written language. Twelfth-century French peasants built the Notre-Dame de Paris. Somehow, cars built without computer chips still drove forwards and backwards.

If we do not pull back from the computer screen, humankind risks losing agency and control over its destiny. To paraphrase Sir Thomas More in “A Man For All Seasons,” it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for DoorDash and TikTok edits?