Are We Getting Dumber as the Bots Get Smarter?

Are We Getting Dumber as the Bots Get Smarter?

Use it or Lose it – to AI

If we outsource our writing to ChatGPT, we risk weakening our ability to think deeply on a topic and develop a cohesive, logical train of thought. Author and media trainer, Theresa Miller explores the potential cost of losing our writing muscles.

Headlines such as ‘The Robot that Ate my Career’ and ‘AI Spells the End of Humanity’ are serving as clickbait – mostly to nervous people, like me, who use words to make a living.

In the short time since OpenAI unleashed ChatGPT onto the internet, there has possibly been more written about it than the game-changing bot could have churned out itself.

Now writers, academics and philosophers are jostling to prove their relevance by predicting the long-term implications.

In one camp is Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari and author of such seminal works as ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’, who decries ChatGPT and its AI cousins as the death knell to human civilisation.

Language is the operating system of human culture. From language emerges myth and law, gods and money, art and science, friendships and nations and computer code. A.I.'s new mastery of language means it can now hack and manipulate the operating system of civilisation. - Yuval Noah Harari

Historian, Yuval Noah Harari
Historian, Yuval Noah Harari

That alarming tone has sent some authorities scrambling to regulate AI’s reach. But with the genie well and truly out of the bottle, it will be like trying to mandate internet-free Sundays. Good luck with that!

In the other camp, is internet pioneer, Marc Andreesen whose essay, ‘Why AI will save the world,’ argues AI will augment our intelligence in the best possible ways.

AI is quite possibly the most important - and best -thing our civilization has ever created, certainly on par with electricity and microchips, and probably beyond those. - Marc Andreesen

Internet pioneer, Marc Andreesen
Internet pioneer, Marc Andreesen

Others like Andreesen, see AI as a ‘cognition extender’, serving as our brain’s personal assistants, safe keeping our memories, generating useful ideas, recommending, navigating, calculating and more.

When it comes to the real fear of AI taking our jobs, some tech fans claim there will always be room for humans. For example, a study at UNSW’s Face Lab in association with UNSW police, identified the two percent of the population known as ‘super face-recognisers.’
These people have exceptional abilities at identifying faces. Their superpowers are used to identify criminals in order to fight crime and keep our borders safe.

Face Lab’s Associate Prof David White says while AI is also very efficient at spotting targeted faces, humans have the edge in remembering where they’ve seen the person before and adjusting to any changes in their appearance. A/Prof White’s research found the best results are achieved when AI and super recognisers work together.

Still on the job front, some optimistic copywriters believe once their clients realise ChatGPT-generated copy is bland and not necessarily accurate, they’ll seek out human wordsmiths again. Even my digital native daughter, who uses ChatGPT to ‘assist’ with her Year 11 school essays is unimpressed with its lack of originality.

ChatGPT is pretty useful, but has zero personality. -Sienna, student, aged 16.

However, there’s a bleaker side to ChatGPT we’re ignoring. Like most people, I’ve outsourced many tasks to AI, such as remembering phone numbers and dates, to navigating the fastest way across town. The downside is I can’t remember my children’s mobile numbers and my orienteering skills have withered. Occasionally, I challenge myself to drive to a destination I haven’t been to for a while, without google maps, but end up referring to the app when I get hopelessly lost.

But writing is more than a means to an end. It’s a means of communication, reflection, discovery and sometimes problem-solving. As the late, great, American writer Joan Didion said:

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. - Joan Didion

Author and Journalist, Joan Didion
Author and Journalist, Joan Didion

Writing is often described as four separate tasks: planning, writing, editing and rewriting. Anyone can write an ordinary first draft; it’s the editing and re-writing that clears away the dirt to reveal the gems.

For example, it took me a few walks with my dog, to work out what I wanted to say in this article. While Rosie didn’t have a lot to say on the subject, the mere process of mulling over the topic while walking, helped me untangle a ball of knotty ideas into a relatively logical and structured argument. In this way, I worked out what I think and why I believe it matters.

If we outsource our writing to ChatGPT – we risk weakening our ability to think deeply on a topic and develop a cohesive, logical train of thought.

With so many knotty and existential problems besieging the world right now, we can’t afford to loosen our grip on the practise of ruminating, reasoning and resolving.

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