I’m really sure I’m not a Troglodyte. For one, I can’t grow a beard. For two, my forehead is too big. But more importantly, our current definition of a Troglodyte is: a person who is regarded as being deliberately ignorant or old-fashioned. I may be old-fashioned but I really try not to be ignorant.
I also don’t think I’m a Luddite. Unfortunately, Luddites don’t know that they are Luddites.
I haven’t been afraid of too many things in my life. I’ve shared in previous blogs how my first job out of engineering school had me walking structural steel up to 160′ in the air with no safety equipment. I was terrified my first day and told the chief engineer that I couldn’t do it. He said, “Give it two weeks and if you’re still struggling, I’ll find another job for you.” Two weeks later I could do it. I had overcome my fear (although I was still very cautious).
A lot of people were very fearful of computers taking over our lives when they first appeared. I remember seeing my first Osborne “portable” computer in about 1981.
It had two floppy drives and a 5” blue screen. I was watching it run Visicalc, a precursor to Microsoft Excel. I saw this first microcomputer at a Las Vegas exhibit. I flew home and went to my boss and told him I was leaving the construction industry and going into microcomputers. He said, “What’s a microcomputer?” I said, hang on, you’ll find out.
While microcomputers frightened a lot of people, I was not worried. It still took a human to control them.
I was an early adaptor in a lot of technology. I recently showed you my Curta Computer. When I show people even today, many of them have never seen one.
I was an early adapter of Blackberry phones. The first one I owned came out about three months after Research in Motion introduced them.
I was really quite comfortable with technology and its advances until last week.
ChatGPT and the Printing Press
I meet with a small group of guys about every week and we discuss whatever is on our minds. One of the guys asked if we were familiar with “ChatGPT.” I, like most of the group, said no. However, I said no because the technology scared me and I had simply avoided it. For the first time, I was afraid of technology because it seems like it has crossed that barrier of requiring human control.
There is a Wall Street Journal article with the title “ChatPGT Hearlds an Intellectual Revolution.” The opening paragraph of the article says, “A new technology bids to transform cognitive process as it has not been shaken since the invention of printing.” The article talks about the technology revolution that was introduced when Gutenberg printed the Bible on his press in 1455.
When I was in Germany years ago, I went to see the Gutenberg press and some of the documents it printed. Those documents were beautifully illustrated pages from the Bible. To me, it seemed like a wonderful invention in history. But I know that at the time it frightened many people. There was no instrument that could reproduce the written word and the fact you could now do it seemed almost evil. I hope I’m not reacting the same way to ChatPGT, so I’ve tried to educate myself about the technology.
GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. The WSJ makes several interesting observations.
- ChatGPT statements and observations appear without an explanation of where they came from and without an identifiable author.
- Answers are not simply copied from the text in the computer’s memory. They are generated anew by a process that humans are unable to replicate.
- Within a few days of ChatGPT’s launch, more than a million people signed up to ask questions.
- The WSJ asked ChatGPT to give “six references on Henry Kissinger’s thoughts on technology.” All were plausible: one was a real title and the rest were convincing fabrications!
- As models turn from human-generated text to more inclusive inputs, machines are likely to alter the fabric of reality.
- What happens if this technology cannot be completely controlled? What if there will always be ways to generate falsehoods, false pictures, and fake videos, and people will never learn to disbelieve what they see and hear?
One ray of hope for me is a woman by the name of Timnit Gebru. Ms. Gebru is the founder and executive director of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR). Much of her work involves the ways AI (Artificial Intelligence) programs can reinforce existing prejudices. She says, “We talk about algorithms, but we don’t talk about who’s constructing the data set or who’s in the data set.” Go Timnit, I’m pulling for you!
So, I’m afraid. For the first time in my life, I’m worried about technology running our lives rather than us using technology to enhance our lives. Is ChatGPT the start of it? Timnit Gebru spends her days looking at and learning about what is going on with AI. She expected AI to one day power much of our lives. But she didn’t believe it would happen this quickly.
Who were the Luddites? Many people think they were small-brained and stupid. They were not. Many people get them confused with the Troglodyte. I spoke above about the Troglodytes being deliberately ignorant or old-fashioned. Luddites were the craftsmen of the day.
The Luddites protested against manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labor practices. Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry. Ned Ludd was an apprentice who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers.
I don’t believe I’m a Luddite. Although I’ve learned and used technology from the time it was invented, I don’t want to destroy it. I do however want it to remain under human control rather than humans being under the control of technology. The good news is that God is the one who is really in control of Troglodytes, Luddites, humans, and machines. He’s the one in control and that comforts me even when I’m worried about the machines taking over.