Just a few months ago writing an original essay seemed like something only a human could do. But then ChatGPT burst onto the scene. And suddenly we realized that an AI could write a passable human-like essay. So now it’s natural to wonder: How far will this go? What will AIs be able to do? And how will we humans fit in?
My goal here is to explore some of the science, technology—and philosophy—of what we can expect from AIs. I should say at the outset that this is a subject fraught with both intellectual and practical difficulty. And all I’ll be able to do here is give a snapshot of my current thinking—which will inevitably be incomplete—not least because, as I’ll discuss, trying to predict how history in an area like this will unfold is something that runs straight into an issue of basic science: the phenomenon of computational irreducibility.
But let’s start off by talking about that particularly dramatic example of AI that’s just arrived on the scene: ChatGPT. So what is ChatGPT? Ultimately, it’s a computational system for generating text that’s been set up to follow the patterns defined by human-written text from billions of webpages, millions of books, etc. Give it a textual prompt and it’ll continue in a way that’s somehow typical of what it’s seen us humans write.