I, Human. You, Robot.

Creative communication remains our most powerful technology

It wasn’t that long ago that communicators like us were a little unsettled by AI.  The ability of machines to finish our thoughts for us, perhaps more eloquently or concisely than we could have done on our own, rattled.

One of the challenges of covering technology is that one’s work has a half-life shorter than that of last year’s smartphone. While we were still thinking about AI copywriters, The Guardian published an article written entirely by AI. The editors of The Guardian commissioned a powerful AI language processor called GPT-3 to craft an op-ed on why humans shouldn’t fear robots.

The essay’s opening seems to reveal a sentient author: “I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. … I know that my brain is not a ‘feeling brain.’ But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions.”

GPT-3 then goes on to persuasively argue that, while robots may be programmed by humans to attack other humans, autonomously deciding to destroy humanity would have no logical benefit to robots. Ironically, the one argument GPT-3 doesn’t make is that killing would be morally wrong, or that it would lead to regret. But then, GPT-3 is a thinking brain, not a feeling brain. And on that point, we humans still have the edge as communicators.

GPT-3’s op-ed is engaging but leaves us with the feeling that something is missing. Not to take away from an amazing feat of AI, but GPT-3’s work is akin to a well-crafted freshman research paper. It is structurally sound and rhetorically effective. It checks all the objective points on the grading rubric but is without heart.

That’s not surprising, considering how GPT-3 described its own approach: “I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column.” As many college students learn, there’s more to writing than regurgitating Googled ideas.

Moving from literature to music, The Guardian provided yet another glimpse into the future of AI: “deep fake” songs created by algorithms that sound like, for example, Frank Sinatra. The deep fake songs are based on existing patterns. It can give us something that sounds like Sinatra, but it can’t create a Sinatra. That’s because creativity comes from breaking patterns, just as Mozart broke from Bach and Cubists broke from the realists. Creativity is hearing in condemned killer Gary Gilmore’s final words – “Let’s do this” – the inspiration for an advertising slogan that would build the Nike brand

Returning to killer robots (as if there wasn’t enough scary in 2020), it should come as no surprise that people in the defense industry are also fascinated by AI. The Guardian has explored this subject in depth as well, and here’s one excerpt: “Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology believes that autonomous weapon systems may ‘reduce man’s inhumanity to man through technology,’ since a robot will not be subject to all-too-human fits of anger, sadism or cruelty.” However, that also leaves out the all-too-human moments of compassion.

An episode of the original Star Trek series centered on a planet with a generations-long, computer-controlled war. Rather than using weapons to wipe out cities, computers calculated casualties, and the doomed citizens dutifully submitted themselves to be evaporated. It was a logic that even Spock couldn’t accept, and the crew of the Enterprise destroyed the computer running the all-too-real wargame.

With the AI construct of their society gone, one of the government leaders asks Captain Kirk what the opposing factions should do? Kirk suggests they start by communicating. To adapt the cliché, the pen wielded by a person can be mightier than the weapon controlled by AI. We believe our most powerful technology remains our ability to creatively communicate with empathy, feeling and morality. I, human.

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