Antonym: The Bot That Spoke Back Edition
How all reality is virtual, pop sci + the patriarchy, a conversation with AI and proposal to reboot Eastbound & Down with FTX execs.
There are two revolutions in parallel happening around thinking. The one that’s been in play longest is brain science. The other one is generative artificial intelligence (gen AI).
In the 1980s there was a comic-strip in a British comic – The Beano – called “Numskulls”. In it a team of little people controlled a person’s mind, operating from a series of rooms. They would look out of the giant windows of the eyes, gather reports from colleagues operating the other senses and try to operate their human.
Given the way our brains construct reality, a more accurate metaphor would be one Numskull person sitting in a dark room in a gamer chair with VR glasses on operating the human with a game controller. Perhaps there would be a whole room of people sitting in the shadows-of-the-subconscious heckling and telling them what to do.
What would our twin revolutions do to this picture? Now there's a co-pilot in the room, watching through a similar headset, but with no controller of their own. They are answering the pilot’s questions, maybe giving them cheat codes and shortcuts for the games of life, tips and advice on the difficult bits. Perhaps the chorus of subs-conscious or sub-personalities admire the newcomer, but are also suspicious.
Neuroscience tells us to be wary of the new co-pilot, however helpful they may be. Some but not all of the hazards are:
Addiction. We forgot how to play on our own, or lose some of the reflexes and skills that the machine boosts for us.
Changing how you think. “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” We don’t know how using AI thinking assistants will change the way we think, but the evidence of every other tech revolutions means that they will.
Distraction. Generative AI tools are like sports-cars for the mind, but we’re just learning to drive. The excitement of being able to explore ideas and speed down rabbit holes may get in the way of focus and getting on with things we need to get on with.
New dangers to playing the game, but we will still play.
Why can’t men see ketchup in the fridge?
The answer is pop-sci + patriarchy. Here’s an example of the myth mixed with enough fact to sound or feel right…
“Ketchup blindness” seems a cute, harmless sort of an observation about the differences between men and women. But why should this kind of glitch affect men more than women?
A chat with a friendly and informed AI quickly showed that there’s evidence to support those that don’t “see the ketchup” not just men. It’s something that happens to everyone.
The joke has an implied idea that men are best off not in kitchens, while women are more adept in domestic settings because of biology. It’s only a hundred years or so since scientists were arguing that some races were better suited to fruit-picking because of the size of hands. It’s good to recognise bullshit,
even especially when it’s you saying it.
Talking to ChatGPT
I mentioned talking to an AI in the last section. I literally meant talking.
For a few weeks, we have been able to have a kind of conversation with ChatGPT. You need to turn the feature on, so you may have missed it (instructions below).
I’ve tried this a few times and it often gives me that sensation of AI vertigo as I have to come to terms with just how quickly technology is changing.
The answers come after a short delay but when they do they are delivered fluently by one of the best voice synthesisers I’ve ever heard. Once it glitched – I think it glitched – and said “it… it… it…” but the effect was more like a human stuttering than a machine. It was just the right side of the uncanny valley.
My second impression of talking to ChatGPT has been that it is like having a conversation with a podcast. You go into a subject and then start going deeper with questions, the tangents taking you where you’re most interested. I even used it in a context where I would usually listen to a podcast: getting ready to go to work. The transcripts of the conversations are available on your account history afterwards.
So here’s the conversation where I realised my lighthearted piece of pop-sci humour was a piece of lightweight patriarchal propaganda (forgive the quality, I couldn’t figure out the screencasting for this app):
How to talk to ChatGPT on the app on your phone.
This is how to do it (from the Zapier blog, which has simple instructions for all ChatGPT functions):
Tap the menu icon (
Tap New Features.
Tap the toggle beside Voice conversations.
Then go to the main chat window and click on the headphones icon.
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From Crypto Bro to Maths Teacher
Since FTX’s demise, Yedidia said he has become a high school maths teacher. The return to normal life will not be so easy for the other three key witnesses.
Do we imagine that the pupils in Mr Yedidia’s class are unaware that he lived in a Caribbean billionaire paradise with his mates for a few years, living high on the bitcoin hype? We do not. Do we imagine that they are kind and empathetic and do not badger him about it endlessly? Sadly, no.
This scenario would make an interesting reboot of Eastbound & Down, the under-appreciated Danny McBride comedy where an NFL washout goes back to his hometown and starts teaching PE. Yes, that is our TV recommendation for this week.
The whole webinar box set is out
That’s all for this week…
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