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"Charmed by sex": The great AI debate...

As of this writing (April 2023) the debate is raging as to whether ChatGPT and the inevitably far superior engines that will rapidly replace it represent the end of the world as we know it...or a lot of fuss about a "glorified autocomplete" (the mighty Noam Chomsky is in the latter camp.)


Of course the debate can be seen as irrelevant in any case— the end of the world could be brought about even by an autocomplete, basing its answers, and its actions, on a predictive model. The already-notorious conversation between the New York Times tech correspondent Kevin Roose and ChatCPT—in which the Bot, amazingly, attempts to persuade him to leave his wife—is a grimly amusing example of what we're unleashing here.


(Oh, and the fact that nearly half of leading AI researchers believe that there's a 10% chance their work could lead to the annihilation of humanity...)


But setting the potential end of the world to one side for a moment, on an epistemological level (meaning the difference between us humans, and the machines that can mimic us) I don't think the words of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, a pioneering British neurosurgeon, can be bettered. They're from a talk in 1949. (The bolding is mine.)

"Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain-that is, not only write it but know that it had written it.
No mechanism could feel (and not merely artificially signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants."

To "not only write but know it had written" strikes me as the key difference. The machines may outstrip us, even in the creation of art (one can quite easily imagine, for instance, an AI-created "Beethoven's 10th Symphony"—perhaps many of them). But the joy and growth experienced by a human being in an act of imaginative creation...one should never say "never" but perhaps one can say with confidence that no machine will experience this. A uniquely human gift!


NOTE 1: The cover image of this post was generated by typing the words "Charmed by Sex" into the text-to-image generative engine Stable Diffusion. Clearly some way to go...

NOTE 2: The words of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson were retrieved via an article on Artificial Intelligence by none other than Alan Turing. Original here.


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