Apparently, there’s an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution afoot — a revolution made possible by ChatGPT, a chatbot able to convincingly mimic human speech and writing. I became aware of ChatGPT after seeing a few articles about a trend of student papers being written by the bot. Though still buggy, the inexorable logic of ChatGPT is that it can and will, in time, replace the human mind and its typos and incomplete fact checking. I could attempt to explain more about ChatGPT, but frankly, I’m not that interested in it. I’ve seen this show before.
At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, many argued that industrial manufacturing output would facilitate greater human leisure. This logic was easy enough to understand: if, for example, a farming combine did the work of thirty humans, those humans who’d otherwise toil in the fields could spend their days writing poetry, playing pickleball, or whatever. This logic was countered by Karl Marx and reality, because the technology that made the combine possible also made possible a host of novel industrial apparatuses to make novel manufactured goods. The human labor needed to produce those novel goods — labor that was previously directed to agriculture — would occupy the would-be leisure time. The people freed from toiling in the fields began toiling in factories making garments, cars, hoverboards, etc.
In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed countless examples of how technology’s capacity to make life easier only served to increase capacity to produce a host of novel products and activities of dubious value. The computer’s efficiency gains over the typewriter made possible the production of throughput like throwaway memos, emails, etc. Web-connected mobile devices efficiency gains over in-person meetings and telephones made possible activities like constantly checking social media and playing MMORPGs.
Besides facilitating the addition of new and dubious products and activities, technology often excised invaluable processes from the human experience. Industrial agriculture decreased human capacity for understanding nature. Industrial manufacturing decreased human’s capacity for understanding labor and resource value. Digital communication, I’d argue, decreased human’s capacity for being in relationship with one another in-person, in real-time.
This brings me back to AI and ChatGPT.
Befitting my contrarian nature, this AI revolution is happening concurrently with my decision to extricate myself from many of my digital tethers. In my last newsletter, I explained how I deleted all but one of my social media accounts — a move made in the interest of regaining my ability to pay sustained attention to projects, people, and my immediate environment. The move has yielded many of the results I anticipated. In the absence of filling free moments with superfluous scrolling, I’ve been reading and enjoying books (paper ones). In the stillness of a (more) centered mind, I’ve had many meaningful conversations. My sleep has deepened and dreams are more vivid.
Will my disconnection from social media mean I’m out of touch with the mainstream? Will my opting out on ChatGPT mean I’ll miss out on the labor saving, interpersonal, and economic opportunities it enables; opportunities the mainstream gobbles up because the technology’s scanty, visible promises outweigh its infinite, hidden perils? I sure hope so.
This post was originally published on my Substack newsletter, David Friedlander’s Brief, a sporadically-published showcase for my verbal perambulations on matters extending beyond business, real estate, and the business of real estate.