Uday Kumar Varma
Few things in recent few months have stirred human mind and ignited human ingenuity more than ChatGPT, a chatbot that many consider a new human. It seems till now a very robust demonstration of the power of Artificial Intelligence. And yet, eminences such as Noam Chomsky term it as ‘basically a high-tech plagiarism’.
Few things in recent past have stirred our minds, ignited our inquiry and whetted our curiosity as much as ChatGPT. Technologists, scholars, academicians, artists, musicians, writers, journalists, students, and of course governments, there is no section of society that is not talking about it. Since, its launch in November last year, millions across the world have used it and millions more want to do so. It has become the most successful progress in the realm of AI (Artificial Intelligence).
What is ChatGPT?
On November 30, 2022 OpenAI, a non-profit and open-source Artificial Intelligence venture, based in California, USA launched a prototype of a chatbot called ChatGPT. The acronym expands to ‘Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer’. It uses Natural Language Processing and the source of its data is textbooks, websites, and various articles, which it uses to model its own language for responding to human interaction. It is a chatbot (a chatbot mimics a human conversationalist), but is far more accomplished and versatile. It can write and debug computer programs; it composes music, writes teleplays, and tells fairy tales. It writes essays, and answers test questions at a level above the average human test-taker. It can write poetry and song lyrics. It can emulate a Linux system; simulate an entire chat room and play games like tic-tac-toe. It can even simulate an ATM.
How Did the World Receive It?
The response to this new technology bomb shell was overwhelming. Some even called it a ‘New Human’. Others called it the first major breakthrough in AGI-Artificial General Intelligence. The critics, however, labeled it merely a major language processing tool.
“The striking thing about the reaction to ChatGPT is not just the number of people who are blown away by it, but who they are. These are not people who get excited by every shiny new thing. Clearly, something big is happening.” wrote Paul Graham of Y Combinator. Elon Musk who had co-founded Open AI in 2015 but quit in 2018, wrote “ChatGPT is scary good. We are not far from dangerously strong AI”. The New York Times conservatively labeled it “the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public”, while The Guardian noted that it was able to generate “impressively detailed” and “human-like” text. Technology writer Dan Gillmor used ChatGPT on a student assignment, and found its generated text was on par with what a good student would deliver and opined that “academia has some very serious issues to confront”. The Atlantic declared ChatGPT as part of “the generative-AI eruption” that “may change our mind about how we work, how we think, and what human creativity really is” and included it among the major “Breakthroughs of the Year”.
And yet, the American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky termed it as ‘basically high-tech plagiarism’. A view many in the world of academia share.
Its developers emphasise its positive impact inter alia on education, employment and most of all human creativity. That it aced an MBA examination of Wharton, can answer questions of a relatively complex nature, and write an analysis of an event better than a seasoned journalist, has raised endless questions. A huge debate is raging across countries as to how the world needs to respond to this new human.
ChatGPT can be used to generate personalised study materials and quizzes for students, allowing them to learn at their own pace and according to their specific needs. This can be particularly beneficial for students who may struggle with traditional classroom settings or for those who want to explore a subject in more depth. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to grade written assignments, freeing up teachers’ time and providing more accurate and consistent feedback to students.
In terms of employment, ChatGPT can be used to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as data entry and customer service. This can lead to increased efficiency and productivity in the workplace, as well as the creation of new job opportunities in fields related to the development and maintenance of language models. In the field of creativity, ChatGPT can be used to generate new ideas and concepts, allowing for the creation of more diverse and original content. For example, ChatGPT can be used to write novels, poetry, and screenplays, or to generate new music and visual art. This can open up new opportunities for artists and creators, and can also lead to the creation of new forms of art and entertainment.
Clearly, the world is not going to be the same anymore. The most telling aspects will be on human creativity. We are going to be seeing painters and musicians of great merit not because they were born with a certain talent but because they have the advantage of access to ChatGPT.
And the age of knowledge workers is likely to see an early demise. All that a knowledge worker in blood and flesh can perform can be done better by this new human. “ChatGPT is only the latest example of technology that seems to be able to carry out tasks that not long ago seemed to require the services not just of human beings but of humans with substantial formal education,” wrote Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize winning economist.
This versatile Chatbot has been embraced by most with excitement and anticipation. Other search engine giants as Google lost no time in launching services that piggybacked on it. Using AI extension, services like ChatGPT Writer, Web Chat GPT, Merlin, Chat GPT Prompt Genius, and Share GPT, have been introduced that are revolutionising the use of internet. Much more is likely to follow. Other tech companies are already in advance stage of launching similar services.
ChatGPT has unleashed a tool that is immensely versatile and useful. It does and will further facilitate a lot of processes that consume time. A paradigm has been introduced, one that is likely unstoppable. Given human nature, the frontiers will be constantly pushed. The future is full of exciting anticipation.
With all the thrill ChatGPT has stirred, it is still a machine and suffers from multiple limitations. Most evident is the ‘hallucination’ it suffers from. Common to large language models, it means it may write plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.
Presently, it has limited knowledge of events that occurred after 2021. ‘I’m well aware of ChatGPT’s limitations. That it’s unhelpful on topics with fewer than 10,000 citations. That factual references are sometimes false. That its ability to cite sources accurately is very limited. That the strength of its responses diminishes rapidly after only a couple of paragraphs. That ChatGPT lacks ethics and can’t currently rank sites for reliability, quality or trustworthiness.’ Is one indictment voiced by University of Texas history professor Steven Mintz.
The Undesirable Aspects
There are some area where clearly the impact could be negative. Job displacement is one. The automation of repetitive and time-consuming tasks by ChatGPT can lead to job displacement, particularly in fields that involve language-based tasks such as data entry and customer service. Creativity and originality may be another casualty particularly in fields such as literature, music, and art.
Then there is the issue of biases and discrimination that may creep in due to their presence in the large data sheet of text which it accesses. The biases may range from race, gender, political affiliations and the like, having serious and long term implication. ChatGPT uses large amounts of data to generate its output, which could potentially be accessed and used by malicious actors. This could lead to privacy breaches and other security issues. There will also be unintended consequences, that will get revealed as the world sees more of it.
Dependence on technology is yet another major concern, particularly in fields such as education, where students may rely too heavily on the personalised study materials generated by the model. This could result in a lack of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The New York State has already banned the use of ChatGPT in its school on complaints that students were using it for writing their assignments.
In conclusion, ChatGPT has the potential to greatly impact various industries, including education, employment, and creativity, by automating repetitive tasks, generating personalized study materials, and providing more accurate and consistent feedback, and also by providing new ideas and concepts, allowing for the creation of more diverse and original content. However, it is important to be aware of the potential challenges and unintended consequences that may arise as it becomes more widely adopted and to address ethical concerns related to the use of language models.
Should it be Regulated?
And yet, the fact remains that Chat GPT still is essentially a search engine though with the capability to process and present information in precise orderly language. The AI part is its articulation. And one needs to remember that what Chat GPT is doing today, work on it has been in progress for many years. It’s nothing new, only much grander and more versatile.
The other tech companies will soon offer better, more efficient, AI equipped chatbots. The future is both exciting and promising.The challenge is how to leverage it towards greater good. The opposition may come from governments, academicians, moralists. Yet, some governments may find remarkable uses for the same. Indian government, for instance, contemplates integrating it with WhatsApp to disseminate government messages.
Many have advocated its regulations. Governments mostly like to regulate. Yet, regulating it has many demerits. Its negative impacts are well understood but the remedy lies in educating and insulating the consumers from its misuses, capacity to generate a false narrative, and designed distortions. This effort is under way in any case for other social media platforms. The same needs to be strengthened.
The fact remains that regulating it will be easier said than done. It deserves to be welcomed and embraced for its immense potential, while countering its pernicious aspects. Our response merits a new paradigm, a superior intelligence not circumscribed by stereotyped thinking.
P.S. One of the paragraphs above was created by ChatGPT. Can you find which one?
Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.