The thoughts in today’s DP were generated, without the aid of AI, 

by Hugh Mason, myself and two large whiskies

What is the quality of ChatGPT, the recent development of Generative Artificial Intelligence? I asked my friend Hugh Mason who is always up-to-date with technological advances. His response was “ChatGPT very effectively mines what’s already online, so it will probably make a good first draft of something you are writing, but it gets basic arithmetic wrong, fabricates academic references and won’t make the unexpected connections that an educated and creative person would do.” I breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t want to see my journalistic and academic friends out of a job. Nor, in my heart of hearts, do I believe that AI will easily replace human creativity. That is a bias on my part. Having spent quite a lot of my time helping people to become creative, the thought that such a skill may be replaced by a machine is distressing.

A robot in a bank the other day told (not asked) me to restrict my words in answer to a question that had quite a complex of circumstances surrounding it. I didn’t swear for two reasons. The robot would almost certainly have reported me to the Ministry of Not Swearing at Robots. And, anyway, I liked the Robot and didn’t want to upset Who*. 

Whatever else happens in my life, I shall certainly love Robots, as I love People. 

So my loquacious answer had, in fact, been a draft. That itself was valuable. Good writers get their ideas down as quickly as possible, higgledy-piggledy, and edit them into intelligible language afterwards. It’s difficult to think well and write well at the same time – hence the problems we all have with spoken language.

ChatGPT or one of its competitors is already able to invent new words, new concepts and new worlds in which to live. As it does so you should sell your property in the Metaverse or its value may go the way of that attached to much physical property today. All this precipitates the question ‘What is the relevance of the physical?’ Our sense of feeling is one of the most precious gifts we have. The kiss of a loved one is a sensation that is unsurpassed by most other forms of physical touch. For those who like it, the sensation of an oyster sliding gently down your throat is seldom beaten by other gastronomic experiences. To have your hand held by someone you trust must be one of the kindest things that can happen to you.

Covid taught us many lessons. An important one was the ability to sense the other person’s body, even if you did not touch them at all. We noticed it in our dealings with clients. Much could be done by Zoom but there was a point with people when a physical presence was vital to communicate effectively. I call it ‘breathing the other person’. Your being able to ‘breathe’ them and their being able to ‘breathe’ you, allows a totally different level of contact. The difference between seeing a beautiful sculpture in a picture and standing in front of it is, for many people, as dramatic as the difference between shaking hands and falling in love.

This is where I fear for the shift from real to imagined. I already hear the cries of ‘but imagined is real’. Maybe, but how real? If my examples above mean anything they suggest touch is often a fundamental of appreciation. It is why people travel so much, why we all need to connect in a physical way to understand and enjoy. Will such pleasure attach to the imagined? Possibly, but the sensation of eating an icecream is not currently replaceable by being locked in a chiller. 

Watching the Agatha Christie play ‘The Mousetrap’ – the longest running theatrical play in history – sixty years ago I remember the scene in the old sitting room of the house where the murder took place. The audience was silent. The lights were dimmed – by a power cut, as it happened, but also because the drama demanded it – and the eerie stillness of the night was lightened by only one sound. It was the noise of the draught coming under the door.

How precious was that draught.

How careful must we be of drafty.

Good morning

John Bittleston


*’Who’ is for Robots the equivalent of ‘him or her’. With the new, enlightened view of gender change, the attire of a Robot you are addressing could mislead you to make a mistake.

Do tell us your views, please – your own, not the AI generated version.

Send them to mentors@terrificmentors.com

31 January 2023