Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Because I worked on IBM's Watson for so many years, both as a creative director and a strategist, I flatter myself into thinking I know more than a little bit about Artificial Intelligence. And because I've studied history for virtually my entire life, I flatter myself I know more than a little bit about the history of hype--technological and otherwise. 

With these two things in mind and despite so many voices barking the contrary, I believe four things about AI.

It will not make our lives better. And

It will not, ever, write well. (Maybe it will be fine for things like the J. Crew catalog or what to do in an elevator emergency.) but...

The plutocrats who run our lives won't stop there. With the scent of money in their greedy nostrils they will turn everything over to AI and before long everything will suck worse and before slightly longer everyone will accept shit as gold.

AI is essentially (for now) an ornate pattern-matching machine. Humans do this too. We pattern-match the word "Untimely" to "Death." We pattern-match "4th of July" to "Mattress Sale." Original thought is hard--and most people and machines default to simple.

I'll leave this space now, having said my piece and resting not in peace for the future I foresee. I will turn this over to my friend, an erstwhile George, Eric Arthur Blair, who knew a bit about words and their effect. He wrote about Newspeak--but you might when you see that cognate replace it with AI:

 “You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words–scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone.”

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great advantage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well–better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words–in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?…”

“…In your heart you’d prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning…”

...That sentence, with its description of shades of meaning as “useless” made an impression on me. I had to put the book down for a second to ponder on it…and I came to equate Standard English as we know it today (and really any language in the world that isn’t Newspeak-like), as being a language for human beings, for expressing all that encompasses the multi-faceted human condition; whereas Newspeak reduces the human down to an automaton machine, who’s primary goal in speaking is efficiency in its exactitude.

The true purpose of Newspeak, the reason for holding efficiency above all else: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?

I realize at the age of 65 I am as obsolete as a wide range of thought. But AI is a writing, thinking and creating good night that we should not go gentle into.

Somehow, and by dint of whatever synapses I have remaining, I think of this poem, perhaps one of the most profound and funniest in the 200,000 years of what we once called "human life" on our dying orb.

Do you want to abandon things like this?

Epitaph on a Waiter

By and by
God caught his eye.

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