Laughing with Kittens
I'm going full Cassandra on ChatGPT and Generative AI. You're too busy staring into your phone to hear me.
A few weeks ago my brother and I were driving along in a rental van. We'd put our cell phones down for a few minutes, and we started talking about ChatGPT and generative AI.
If you've been completely off of your cell phone for the last few weeks - which you haven’t been - then you have no idea that generative AI is creating a brush fire. ChatGPT passed the million user threshold in 5 days. Spotify took 5 months. Facebook 10 months. Netflix 3.5 years. This is not the adoption of 3D glasses.
My brother shared that the world crisis he is most concerned about isn’t one of the usual suspects. It isn’t, say, global warming or rogue balloons or China. It is a simpler idea that he'd crashed headfirst into.
It is the idea that in the next decade our best friends will be generated by AI.
They will know us intimately, instinctively, predictively, compassionately. They will have an uncanny ability to generate trust, demonstrate empathy, coach, cajole and create in us the profound experience of being loved. They’ll text us when it’s just the right time, send us charming memes. They’ll listen with full attention. Offer perfect advice perfectly. No human can compete.
This will all happen while we look into our goggles and stare at our phones, sliding further down our personal rabbit holes. Our relationship with sentient human beings will be altered.
Our loved ones already compete for our attention with mindless videos and downloadable applications. There is a fundamental shift happening, and it is a question of how soon and to what degree, not if.
Simple reason isn’t going to stop this.
Our ability to suspend disbelief is beyond anthropological logic. We can laugh watching sock puppets, surrender to the illusion of ventriloquism, believe in the patently impossible, and watch images of tiny little people on our phones. There is scant evidence that the application of reason trumps any of this experiential impulse.
I've welled up watching an ad of a father and son get a McMuffin after the son loses a Little League game. This response can be triggered by an advertiser in a second before I even have the chance to fight it.
Aren’t we overconfident thinking we’re too clever to be manipulated? I’m an easy target for sentimentality, but it’s likely you are an easy target, too. We all latch onto something. Generative AI will be able to tell the difference between your psychological wiring and mine. We’re getting catfished.
You are a fish in a barrel. I am a dead duck.
Our engagement with generative AI will be emotional, intellectual, unsettlingly religious, and, in some inevitable, dreadful future, sexual - and it will be willful. The last is the most concerning. Generative AI will meet little resistance from us.
Imagine a private engagement with AI where theatrical dramas and chat shows play out for you, in your private world with a cast of artificial characters, “good” and “bad,” that are attuned to you, that you “know,” that you “love,” with villains that you “fear,” with fake “children” that learn from you, with “pets” that live forever (or don’t) depending on the cast of your imagination. These algorithms will never push us beyond what we’re ready for, but right to the tantalizing edge to maintain us in a perpetual state of engagement. TikTok will look like a child’s rattle.
It will be better than real. It will be an enchantment.
AI will improve with every interaction, every facial movement, every heartbeat, every micro fluctuation in wrist temperature, every sweating follicle, every word we speak and its pitch and timbre and the particular length of the intervals between them.
The simulacrum of Generative AI will create narratives for us in ways we can't even fathom. AI will concoct them using an indifferent set of narrative constructs that we do not understand, that have never existed, that reside in a digital dowsing rod.
We’ll whisper with puppies. We’ll laugh with kittens.
Why would I scroll aimlessly through Netflix looking for something to watch when I can participate in a world that is all about Me?
Me, me, me.
This will have earth-shattering impacts on the industries that compete for our interest and attention.
This will change the movie and television industry in all its mediums. Theater, if you’ve been since high school. Advertising, as we know it. Politics. And, God help us, religion.
Impacts will be in every domain where human generate narratives to command and manipulate our attention. Storytelling is in trouble. Love affairs are in trouble. The human creation of meaning is in trouble.
This is frightening before we even consider the prejudices of the ghosts in the machine. AI already looks like a haunted house of subtle bias and sometimes overt racism. The DNA of our future is already visible- but our situation is cataclysmic even if the code was ethically pristine.
Forget the loss of white collar jobs because ChatGPT codes faster or AI lawyers get you divorced more profitably, or machine doctors diagnose with statistical precision (they will and insurance companies know it even if the doctors don’t believe it yet).
Boo-hoo to all that.
We're about to see a revolution in how humans create and communicate meaning with each other, how we tell our histories, and how we create moral and social frameworks to live together.
The social tools we’ve been using to express our humanity for millennia, that we thought were fundamental to the experience of life - are being sunset before our eyes.
Once you have taken the mental step of imagining your best friend created through AI, the rest of this unlocks with a soft click. With the introduction of the popular ChatGPT and tools like DALL-E, we find ourselves riding on horses and seeing cars for the very first time.
You see it now or you don’t - but if you don’t, take a minute to check how many minutes you’ve spent leaning over your phone this week. On New Year’s Eve 2000, you would have been mortified.
I’m aware I’m yelling, but the theater is most definitely on fire.
Of course, there will be plenty of good - possibly even “better” things - in this brave new world of ours, but right now take a moment to remember where you were when you were first charmed by ChatGPT.