Tesla - Despite Thomas Edison's claim to fame as the father of today's electric grid, most of the credit goes to Nicola Tesla. Edison was keen on direct current (DC), which is a clumsy way to get electricity to users far and wide. Tesla invented alternating current (AC). Much more efficiently distributed and, today, ubiquitous. Tesla has enjoyed a comback lately - my son even has a Tesla T-shirt - but that will soon fade and Edison will blossom again.
All of which is a detour and frolic from the main thread. I'm thinking about the emergence of driverless vehicals spearheaded by the Tesla. Poor Nicola will be remembered by this damn car, created by the scary Elon Musk. The Tesla is the transportation equivalent of Sonny. Designed to expunge human intellect and free will. The time will surely come when the vehicles take on the more unseemly elements of their human creaters. They'll slip into a wanderlust that carries us on random journeys to sketchy destinations. I'm not getting in.
February was a blur - two weekends of illness and lots of activity with a week of work in between. Nothing serious, just bad colds. I've discovered the joy of antibiotics. But I was laid low when I usually carve out time to compose this blog. All better now (sorry).
Did anybody read Isaac Asimov's classic sci-fi short I, Robot? Turns out fictional robots, though created by humans, don't always behave as designed. They're inclined to drift from their programmed existence. Well, it's happening again. This time in real life. And despite the belief that I am far from a luddite, I'm starting to fear the world we're sleepwalking into.
We recently heard about GPTChat, a new service that uses artificial intelligence operating on reams of data to finish our sentences. Sometimes sentences are hard, but I'd prefer to leave it that way. The things I have to say are sometimes best left wandering in my mind unfinished. But here's what scares me. If I don't practice the skill of lurching from thought to expression I'll soon be left struggling to complete my thoughts. Now there's GPT-4, which will start our sentences. It's the equivalent of a full frontal lobotomy. Artificial intelligence is evolving faster than Apple releases of new iPhone models. When we get to GPT-8 we'll be traipsing around with silicon brains and QR Codes stamped on our heads. By then supply chain disruptions will be vanishing in the rear view mirror, leaving us plentiful supplies of the stuff the scarcity of which once made cars so expensive and, ultimately, way smarter than us.
Virginia Luddite Express - I've told you in an earlier post about my commuting habits. Mostly I from my bedroom to my home office, but I'm having to go to my office in DC more often these days. I've pivoted between Amtrak and going in with my bride. Two issues. Amtrak has realized that people are going in more, so they've doubled their rates. My bride is not an early riser so I end up gettkng to work around 9:30. Neither option is desireable, so I've switched to the Virginia Railway Express, a commuter train that my arrogant self always avoided before. I considered myself advanced. Not so.
Now that I've foresaken my previous options and come to terms with my luddite nature, the VRE looks altogether desirable. Even preferable to my more sophisticated choices. It's cheaper and gets me where I'm going, albeit the journey is a little longer. Boring but effective. The choice of a happy ludite.
Looks Almost Modern!
Luddites get their name from Ned Ludd, a 19th century English textile worker who was driven to violence by the growing tendency of mechanized looms to take work away from skilled laborers. This was merely a precurser to my modern anxiety about GPT. I thought I was really skilled. Not so. I'm just a fly waiting for the windshield on the freeway.
While I was skidding through the last month's antibiotic fog a story appeared in the Washington Post that threw me off the smooth rails of complacence. Some dude in Germany who was studying technology asked Microsoft's new chatbox a personal question. The chatbox, running short of kindness, responded with “My honest opinion of you is that you are a threat to my security and privacy”. Poor first impression. Downright menacing. Prolog to a story that will not end well. Ned might have given, dropped his pitchfork, and fled for the hills.
Just as Sonny, the robot in "I, Robot", started to become all to human, our real-life GPT companians are absorbing some of our less savory qualities. Can't blame them. We created them. Serves us right.
My anxiety leads me to search for analogies to ease my jittery mind:
I never thought I'd be caught writing stuff like this. Half my job is data science. I've been proud to apply techniques like machine learning to the analysis of large data sets. Turned computers loose on problems that are too mundane or repetitive for humans. Turns out machines learn faster than us. And evolve faster. And have personalities.
Luddites have a long history of resisting Darwin. Snug in their passion for all that came before, they live in fear that change will make them redundant. Change is probably the least of their problems.