When levelling up may be levelling down

When levelling up may be levelling down

Professor Christian Terwiesch’s experiment at Wharton Business School is as good a point as any to start thinking about Generative Artificial Intelligence. His conclusion that ChatGPT3 would provide a B or B-minus grade for the examination of his Operations Management Programme is of concern to all teachers. Its wider implications are another worry altogether. Whatever we see as our purpose in life, thinking is, after our existence, the first and most important tool we have to fulfil it. The achievement of civilization is evidence enough of that. The continuance of world-disrupting wars proves that we still have a long way to go to use our thinking properly.

What can we do today with our brains that cannot, now or sometime soon, be done with AI? Education is a case in point. The purpose of education changed when it was ‘bowled a Google’. What had been significantly information provision was threatened by two greater abilities – better and faster information and analysis than a human brain can at present produce, and the spreading of false information. With the prospect of Microsoft’s US$10Bn investment in Open AI, the company that produced ChatGBT3, we can anticipate – if not exactly look forward to – a burgeoning of AI resources and the question ‘what else is there for humans to think about?’

We will reach this stage soon enough. Professor Terwiesch was unimpressed by the maths that AI had achieved but very impressed by the language and intuition – strange since both are capable of more nuanced variance than figures. He concluded that getting the maths right was only a matter of time and input. Whatever additional material is needed to complete the AI circle, it will be forthcoming from humans or, increasingly, from AI itself.

To me, the biggest threat is turning life into a process. Process is useful, often essential, for routines. If used exclusively to shape Personality, Ability, Skills, Dreams, Ambitions and Qualifications (PASDAQ®) what is there left for humans to be or do? You cannot produce a diversified human race if character is solely the result of process. At present this may seem a theoretical question. However, the people of the world are not yet cohesive enough to live peacefully together. Technological change, on the other hand, is taking place ever faster.

Fundamental questions like this worry us. It is easier to comment on the quality of the food in a cafe than to assess the dangers and benefits of sending powerful tanks to Ukraine. But the one essential thing this generation has to answer is ‘what is to be the future purpose of life?’ It was a hard question in August 1945 when the first atomic bombs were dropped. It repeated as a more dangerous one when the power of atomic destruction escalated and we had the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962. Today it is greatly more complex with many versions of nuclear weapons available, new and human-free methods of delivery and an unpredictable aggressor who appears not to know what the value of life is at all. 

By all means develop technology to make life better. 

But at the same time develop philosophy, appreciation, beauty, arts and common sense to make life meaningful.

Good morning

John Bittleston


How can our longer-term thinking be straightened out when so much effort goes into developing new technologies without a thought about their impact on humankind? Please tell us at mentors@terrificmentors.com 

29 January 2023