ChatGPT is different.
As an engineering student, I was the first person in my class to have an HP-35 advanced calculator, giving me an advantage over my fellow slide-rule based cohort. Some professors banned it on tests and others changed the assignment to identify the equations necessary to get the answer instead of the result. It was a tool that helped me focus on engineering problems and not on how to calculate sines or cosines.
ChatGPT is not just a new tool.
Grammarly is a tool. It advises students on punctuation, verb tenses, spellings, grammar and even writing style. Hats off to it. It is the student’s editor allowing them to focus on coursework. Just as it’s good to study long division before depending on a calculator, it’s good to study foundational grammar before using a tool like Grammarly, or a human editor, to proof grammar while focusing on the task at hand. Language experts and researchers will study grammar and mathematical algorithms, but they are few. Like Grammarly, ChatGPT can be used as a tool to edit, or to automate time consuming writing tasks, but not be an end goal. The benefit is efficiency in accomplishing the “real” task without getting distracted by things not of primary importance. This might increase our productivity, or replace us, others, or contractors had ChatGPT not been available. Calculators replaced very few but made engineers and businesspeople more efficient.
ChatGPT simulates thinking.
There it is. ChatGPT can solve whole problems or used to make suggestions on solutions. It simulates thinking by using training data. It is not a tool like a hammer or a calculator. Those are algorithmic means to solve bigger problems, making humans more powerful. But ChatGPT is prompted with the end problem and it provides the solution, with the human providing oversight or being its editor. Tomorrow, it will become its own editor leaving humans to install guardrails.
ChatGPT is a creator too.
Many argue that we are still the ultimate creators. Indeed, ChatGPT uses training data to come up with a solution to a prompt. That training data is its experience, and that is the basis for its solution. We are similar, using our experience to create new things. ChatGPT can even simulate complex creativity. For instance, as a venture capitalist, I see business plans describe new markets based on other successes. For example, Airbnb is like Uber for hotel rooms. With a prompt like “How can I make air travel operate in a business model like Uber?” ChatGPT that exceeded my expectations, bringing in regulatory, digital platform, safety, recruitment, and marketing issues. Its ability to write code may soon be able to deliver the required app. It extrapolated from its learned experience to things that don’t yet exist. Isn’t that what we are claiming human creativity is? But we will lose something if we leave all our creativity to AI. As tough as it is to stare at a blank page when creating new ideas, let’s not be tempted to leave it up to machine suggestions. We are distracted by those suggestions, and become, as decision making theory puts it, “anchored” to those solutions which we use as a basis for our final product. True human creativity is lost.
Can it replace human creativity?
No, or at least I want to believe not. Humans imagine worlds, societies, products, and solutions that do not exist. We see problems that exist because of our humanity that a machine may never understand. Posing the question may be our greatest strength. We have intention and purpose. Machines may be able to deduce those, but not feel them.
But calculators? I don’t need to ask any of those questions. It is not creative, nor does it drift from its only purpose. It doesn’t even pretend to go where ChatGPT can.
So please spare us the comparison! That simple comparison minimizes the effects of this truly remarkable, transformative technology and attempts to reduce the fear of disruption to society that has begun.
(written and edited by humans)