So the ChatGPT language processing model burst upon an astonished world, and the air was rent by squeals of delight and cries of outrage or lamentation.
That seems to me to be the beginning of wisdom about ChatGPT: at best, it’s an assistant, a tool that augments human capabilities.
This is an interesting article by John Naughton in The Guardian on the uproar created by the Chat GPT bot. I just came from a heated debate with teachers during lunch; what now for schools? Will we have to change things radically because our students have a new tutor at home? Will they be able to use this to improve assignments work on at home? Should we stop giving homework? Many teachers already have. Even if the teachers do not use this in the classroom, we know students are. What happens to grading students work when we do not know how the assignment was written? Is it very different from Googling all the answers? Can we close the access to ChatGPT at school; will that be considered? Many questions, any answers?
The delighted ones were those transfixed by discovering that a machine could apparently carry out a written commission competently. The outrage was triggered by fears of redundancy on the part of people whose employment requires the ability to write workmanlike prose. And the lamentations came from earnest folks (many of them teachers at various levels) whose day jobs involve grading essays hitherto written by students.
So far, so predictable. If we know anything from history, it is that we generally overestimate the short-term impact of new communication technologies, while grossly underestimating their long-term implications. So it was with print, movies, broadcast radio and television and the internet. And I suspect we have just jumped on to the same cognitive merry-go-round.
So what’s going on is “next-token prediction”, which happens to be what many of the tasks that we associate with human intelligence also involve. This may explain why so many people are so impressed by the performance of ChatGPT. It’s turning out to be useful in lots of applications: summarising long articles, for example, or producing a first draft of a presentation that can then be tweaked.