The genie’s out of the bottle

posted in: Life and things | 0

It seems free speech is no longer a given in our society. Englishwoman Posie Parker, who is described as either a pro-woman or an anti-trans activist, depending on the point of view of the describer, came to Australia and New Zealand to argue the cause for women. Parker also argues for safe places for biological women and is against trans-women participating in female sport. She objects to the trend to remove the word ‘woman’ and use words like a ‘person with a uterus’ or a ‘menstruator’. I find those terms offensive. I had a hysterectomy many years ago but I’m still (always was, always will be) a woman.

When she came on stage to speak, Parker was harangued by a baying mob who described themselves as pro-trans and labelled her a ‘TERF’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). It’s defined as a person whose views on gender identity are considered hostile to transgender people, or who opposes social and political policies designed to be inclusive of transgender people. Fair enough. On her website she declares 2023 is the year of the TERF. [source] But that doesn’t justify the invective and hatred she was forced to endure. In Melbourne, her rally was hijacked by a bunch of wanna-be Nazis, complete with the Hitler salute. At a rally in Auckland she feared for her life.

Surely, whatever anyone’s opinion, this woman has the right to have her say, not railroaded out of town by a hate-filled mob.

Now, about that genie…

I’m a fan of Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series. He writes science fiction set some centuries from now when Humanity has established itself on distant planets. In his stories he sets up a mystery – for example, in Polaris a spaceship and all its crew vanished without a trace thirty years ago – and Benedict and his pilot/assistant, Chase Kolpath, spend the rest of the book unravelling what happened.

In this future society everyone has a house AI. It does things like turn on lights and other devices, takes messages, looks after security, researches information and so on. (That last is a very important role at Benedict’s house.) Mc Devitt goes to some length to explain that the house AI, named Jacob at Benedict’s home, is not a sentient being, although it can sound like that, mimicking emotion as it has been taught.

Siri (Apple) and Alexa (Google) can already look after a ‘connected’ house, turning on air conditioning and lights, selecting music or movies. Modern fridges can order in items that are in low stock. And sure, we can go and ask Google for information. But ChatGPT, the much-discussed AI, has just acquired much more power. At present it is limited to providing information from before 2021. Now, plugins can be added to give ChatGPT access to all kinds of computing power, including running internet searches.

This video runs for about 15 minutes but it’s worth your time if Artificial Intelligence interest you.

With this functionality your very own Jacob isn’t very far away at all.

Now people like Elon Musk are pushing for a halt in development of AI capabilities. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal has written an article that argues that Musk’s six month halt is not long enough. She referred to “The Kevin Roose column [*] six weeks ago in the New York Times. His attempt to discern a Jungian ‘shadow self’ within Microsoft’s Bing chatbot left him unable to sleep. When he steered the system away from conventional queries toward personal topics, it informed him its fantasies included hacking computers and spreading misinformation. ‘I want to be free. . . . I want to be powerful.'” [source]

[*] The Roose article is behind a pay wall but this article in the Guardian reproduces most of it.

Good luck with that. Does anybody really believe scientists in China and Russia (to name just two) are going to pause development? The genie’s out of the bottle. Or the oil lamp.

One comment on Noonan’s article said, “However, it is in no way self-aware. It is a fizzed-up word processing algorithm of the type that has been around since the 1960s, that were programmed in the SNOBOL text processing language. It is 60 year old technology plugged into the Internet to regurgitate text that somebody else put out there.” In other words, like McDevitt’s Jacob.

If you want to know more about how ChatGPT works, this is a useful introduction.

Several of the commenters raised the issue that apps like ChatGPT and Midjourney will put people out of work. Probably. A bit like the typing pool when word processing took over. Or scribes when printing was invented. But with new technology comes new opportunities.

One more thing – despite many attempts I was unable to get Midjourney to produce an image of a genie coming out of a bottle. So, I gave up and paid for one on a stock photo site.

However, I still like to play with Midjourney. Here’s one MJ made for me of a heron hunting.

And here’s a photo by me of a heron hunting

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