More than meets the AI: The chatbots are here. Now what?

Bing plus ChatGPT! Google and Bard! Baidu and … uhh.. Ernie bot? Okay. Sure. Baidu and Ernie bot! 2023 is the year of the chatbot, for sure. 

In this issue:

  • Alan Turing’s spirituality (649 words)
  • Isaac Newton’s bullies (312 words)
  • Bill Gates’ boundaries (178 words)

Alan Turing’s spirituality

With all the hubbub, hullabaloo, and fluff surrounding the launch of ChatGPT for Bing and the impending release of Google’s Bard, chatbots are suddenly the belle of Big Tech’s ball.

I gotta admit, it blows my mind a little. I didn’t have “chatbots” on my “tech that will change the future” bingo card 10 years ago. But tech moves fast. If you’re not thinking about tomorrow today, you’re stuck in yesterday.

Still, progress in the world of artificial intelligence (and quantum computing, but that’s a subject for a different column) has been incredibly rapid. Since the moment Ian Goodfellow et al published their paper on generative adversarial networks, AI tech has been on a rocket ship to the Moon.

The last time humanity witnessed a technological boom of such magnitude, in my opinion, was during the second world war. And, if we’re talking AI and WWII, we need to be talking about Alan Turing.

Few figures in history have had a greater impact on the greater good than Alan Turing. Arguably, had Turing not existed, Nazi Germany would have been primed to win the war.

Sadly, there are also few historical figures as tragic as Turing. These days it’s common knowledge that the legendary mathematician ended his own life after undergoing conversion therapy torture.

Turing’s life was spent in service to humanity. And so was his death. Thanks to Alan Turing, queer folks know that no matter what we do — we can literally save the free world from Nazi domination — it won’t be good enough for bigots to recognize our value.

Another thing Turing contributed to the world was the idea that we’d need some way to test an artificial intelligence to determine whether it was truly intelligent, or just a really good fake.

He figured that any machine capable of fooling humans into thinking it was a person during a conversation would thus demonstrate true intelligence.

I’m vehemently opposed to this idea and think it’s about as wrongheaded an assumption about how easily-fooled and mostly-ignorant humans are, but I have a lot more hindsight on my side than Mr. Turing did.

Hell, I’m four years older than Alan Turing was when he died (he was 41).

What most people don’t know is that Turing’s entire career as a scientist and mathematician was defined not by a drive to excel, but by the desire to occupy his mind in order to assuage his broken heart.

His first love, a boy who died of bovine tuberculosis at only 19 years old, haunted him for all his years. He wrote affectionately to the boy’s mother and maintained a relationship with her for some time after the boy passed.

In his letters, Turing shared with her his thoughts on life, love, and even spirituality. And, though Turing was a self-admitted atheist, he still believed there was more to humanity than just cells and viscera.

Writing to her, in 1933, he spoke of his thoughts on what the human “spirit” was and how it functioned:

“When the body is asleep I cannot guess what happens but when the body dies, the ‘mechanism’ of the body, holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later, perhaps immediately.”

That’s the kind of person we need building our future. 

The sea of straight, white, middle-class-and-up, heterosexual, college grads who are turning the wrenches and setting the dials for the machines we’re supposed to one day trust… they don’t represent me or the world I want to live in.

I pine for a queer, atheist, soulful, spiritual genius to lead us into a bold and diverse future where people like Alan Turing aren’t committed to electro-shock torture and chemical castration just because they don’t conform to some bullshit, unscientific, wholly-unnatural vision of human sexuality.

Sadly, though progress has been made, the world is still unwelcoming to queer people. Especially the STEM world.

Isaac Newton’s bullies

When Newton’s father died, just a few months before he was born, the man who would become the father of physics arrived into a world that didn’t care very much for people like him. Not quite a bastard, but the product of a mother who was forced to remarry, little Newton struggled to achieve the sort of success and popularity at school that one would expect from, arguably, the smartest guy on the planet circa the 1640s.

In fact, from such turbulent beginnings, nobody would have been shocked if Newton had simply lived his life, died, and been done with. But, as we all know, that’s not what happened.

What most people don’t know, however, is that Newton was propelled toward greatness by the desire to show his bullies that he was better than them. As a youth, Newton eventually challenged one of his bullies to a fight. Unfortunately, he was subsequently expelled from school.

Upon returning to academia, he redoubled his efforts. He was determined to show up his bullies and to prove that he wasn’t a bad seed.

The rest may be history, but I believe Newton’s going to play an important role in our future as well. A few years back I wrote an article on The Next Web explaining how Newton’s laws of physics could actually prevent artificial intelligence from gaining sentience:

“It’s impossible to tell if we’re actually making progress towards AGI. It could happen tomorrow, in 100 years, or never.

One educated guess we can make, however, is that it’s unlikely we’ll get there with a binary neural network running classical algorithms.

We live in a quantum universe. Whether you believe in wormholes or not is inconsequential to the fact that any attempt at recreating the human brain’s organic neural network through binary representation is unlikely to result in a functional facsimile.”

Read the rest here.

Bill Gates’ boundaries

Everybody knows that Steve Jobs was a fan of hallucinogens. He’s probably the most famous LSD advocate in the tech world. But, did you know that Bill Gates was also known to drop some acid in his youth?

Way back in 1994, he gave an interview to Playboy Magazine wherein he admitted to having been a rowdier person in his youth. He kept his cards pretty close to his chest but, when pressed, he admitted that he dabbled in psychedelics.

However, according to Gates, his drugs and partying days stopped at about the age of 25. Interestingly, this could mean he was dropping acid for the first five years after he founded Microsoft.

No conspiracy theory here, I just genuinely think it’s awesome that Bill Gates used to trip. Not to mention there’s something vaguely satisfying about knowing that right now the biggest story in the world is about ChatGPT, a robot that literally hallucinates its outputs.

I’m not saying that you have to use LSD in order to be a successful businessperson…. but why risk it? 😀


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