In a comment on my recent post about Chatbots, Adrian asserted that people will eventually start to see such things as human and intelligent, even though they are not human and are not intelligent. There is much to unpack in that comment, so today’s post is going to be my response.
When a technology is new and people haven’t seen it before, there is always a tendency to ascribe to it human properties. But at the end of the day, a tool has no consciousness, and cannot / should not be put in jail for breaking the law.
In an earlier time the ML tool that lays out circuit boards might have been thought of as intelligent. But now that we are used to it, we no longer make that mistake.
Similarly, someone not familiar with an airplane might think it is a kind of bird, and someone not familiar with an automobile might think of it as a fabulous kind of horse, or a camera as an astonishingly good realist painter, or a gramophone as a machine that sings and plays instruments.
The fact that people think such things does not make them stupid. They are just trying to make sense of the existence of something that they had always assumed to be impossible.
If you’ve never seen such things before, your sheer astonishment that such a thing is possible might catch you off guard. But eventually you get used to it, and you stop being astonished at what a new kind of tool is capable of producing.
Chatbots do not create original material — they are just a kind of mirror reflecting our human creativity. In particular, they rearrange material that was already created by humans. Without the collective intelligence of the humans who are providing the actual data — original and intelligent human thought — a chatbot would have nothing to work with.
Chatbots are already being used by copywriters in various industries. In those industries, the chatbot doesn’t replace the professional — it is a tool that is used by the professional. The professional copywriter continues to provide their uniquely human insight and humor, but is relieved of much of the manual labor of generating copy.
All automation ends up displacing drudge work, and therefore some kinds of labor-intensive work ends up being done by machines, and those kinds of jobs go away. But automation also provides new and powerful tools for people who know how to use it, thereby creating new jobs that require human thought and judgement, rather than drudgery.
Arthur C. Clarke famously said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” An important corollary is that technologies do not stay magical for very long.