December 6, 2022
I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think that the GPT, OpenAI arbitrary-text-generation stuff is all that interesting. A machine repeating permutations of things we’ve already said back to us is a weird thing to be impressed by or frightened of, unless you secretly know that your job is confidently repeating plausible-sounding nonsense with no regard for whether there’s any truth to it.
But in practical terms, their real impact will be that how we conceive of knowledge at all gets rapidly bifurcated into “small towns that can still pump clean water from the wells” and “London during the Great Stink, though, so as the attendants say, be sure to put your own mask on first. Anyone remember when Google’s mission was “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, and not “build tools that automatically generate an endless stream of believably averacitous text?” Yeah, me neither.
I guess it’s no surprise that a few consecutive generations of people being really, methodically deliberate about misinterpreting the Imitation Game to avoid staring directly at Turing’s persecution, debasing his life and work so profoundly that they’d claim that a believable deception is some indicator of nascent intelligence would bring us here.
The Imitation Game was a cry for help from a man being destroyed by the society he spent his life saving. Is it any wonder that a brilliant, closeted gay man, who might be incarcerated or even executed for the crime of being themselves, would have existential questions about what it means to need to deceive people – your friends, your colleagues, your family and maybe even yourself, every single day – simply in order to be treated like a human being?
Using the tools Turing gave us to build stochastic parrots that cannot hew to any concept of right or wrong, whose only utility is a weapon aimed at the foundations of justice, civil democracy and the entire concept of truth, that’s bad enough. But saying they “pass” a made-up test about plausibly lying to yourself that you’ve named after a closeted man the state hounded to suicide is beyond disgusting. It’s grotesque.
The mere existence of these tools demeans us all as scientists, engineers and humans. If you’re involved in building these things you should resign from the field in shame. In honour of Alan Turing’s memory and basic human decency, if nothing else.