May 8, 2023

When ChatGPT takes my job

I worry a lot about what will happen when machines take over my job.

As someone who does a lot of writing for work, whether that be in briefing notes or presentation decks or memos or just in Slack, I’ve long thought about what it would mean if a machine could do my writing better than I could.

For a long time, this was just conjecture. But with the emergence of ChatGPT and its ability to write—and emulate a person’s specific writing style—highly technical prose, the future where my work will be fundamentally different can’t be too far away.

It will, of course, take a while for tools like ChatGPT to get to the point where they can build the political acuity and broad analytical ability that is needed to do my job, but I’m sure that day is coming. Coupled with the fact that I’m growing older, and being older in a tech-adjacent field is often a liability, I can’t bury my head in the sand and pretend nothing’s going to change. The nature of my work will have to change, and with it, the way I define my professional self, as well.

There is a big question to be asked here: large pieces of our emotional lives and social selves are hooked into the tasks we do for work. What happens when AI does those tasks better?”

I’m lucky: I don’t define my whole self and my life based on what I do for a living, and never really have. My work is but one facet of my life, and definitely not the most important one: I don’t see myself as just a public servant, but a myriad of other things like a father, a husband, a civic activist, a writer, a good friend, and much more. The changing nature of my work because of AI won’t make me feel less than, or diminished in any way—but it will feel different.

Change is coming; in the meantime, I’m doing the best I can to excel in my work, but also to double down on the things I care about outside of work. Sure, in the future, an AI might be able to write a briefing note in my stead, but an AI definitely won’t be able to be a nurturing, caring father to my daughter—among many other things that I do that a machine can’t and won’t be able to do. Let the AI revolution come: I’m happy with who I am and who I will be.

I want to quote this whole article by Ted Chiang—Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey?”—but I’ll just excerpt a few passages and then strongly urge you to read the rest.

On Luddites and economic justice:

The Luddites were not anti-technology; what they wanted was economic justice. They destroyed machinery as a way to get factory owners’ attention. The fact that the word Luddite” is now used as an insult, a way of calling someone irrational and ignorant, is a result of a smear campaign by the forces of capital.

On the distribution of technological benefits:

The only way that technology can boost the standard of living is if there are economic policies in place to distribute the benefits of technology appropriately. We haven’t had those policies for the past forty years, and, unless we get them, there is no reason to think that forthcoming advances in A.I. will raise the median income, even if we’re able to devise ways for it to augment individual workers. A.I. will certainly reduce labor costs and increase profits for corporations, but that is entirely different from improving our standard of living.

The hard work for technologists ahead:

The tendency to think of A.I. as a magical problem solver is indicative of a desire to avoid the hard work that building a better world requires. That hard work will involve things like addressing wealth inequality and taming capitalism. For technologists, the hardest work of all–the task that they most want to avoid–will be questioning the assumption that more technology is always better, and the belief that they can continue with business as usual and everything will simply work itself out. No one enjoys thinking about their complicity in the injustices of the world, but it is imperative that the people who are building world-shaking technologies engage in this kind of critical self-examination. It’s their willingness to look unflinchingly at their own role in the system that will determine whether A.I. leads to a better world or a worse one.

Read the whole thing. I’ve been starting to think a lot more about the societal effects of AI and this piece really puts a lot of things in perspective.

Two poems

I Need a Poem
Kyla Jamieson

Can we talk about the moon
tonight? Low & full
in the baby-blue sky. A friend
at my door, the sound
of her laugh & well-loved
heart. I want to be held
up like that. I need a poem
about happiness I haven’t
written yet, an ode
to the ducks in my neighbours’
pool, another for the pink
magnolias of spring–some trees
make it look so easy: Yes,
I can hold all this beauty up.

Ruth Krauss

Reading about the Wisconsin Weeping Willow
I was thinking of you
and when I saw Plus Free Gifts
I was thinking of you
and when farther down the page I saw Eat Five Kinds of
Apples from Just One Miracle Tree
I was thinking of you
I was thinking of you

From Roxane Gay: Making People Uncomfortable Can Now Get You Killed. She writes about this so well, but it’s sad she needs to write about it at all.

There have been a lot of good remembrances of Harry Belafonte online since his passing, but this one by Wesley Morris, on Mr. Belafonte as folk hero, is my favorite.

From Sharon Butala: On Aging Alone. I think about aging a lot these days. In our culture, our elders lived with us until they passed. That’s harder now, now that everyone lives so far from each other.

A few good pieces on loneliness, something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: in Quanta, How Loneliness Reshapes the Brain, and in Farnam Street, The Art of Being Alone.

Sasha Velour has long been one of the drag queens that intrigues me most. This excerpt from her new book, on How Ru Paul Created a Castle for Queer Beauty, makes me want to pick up a copy and read it now.

I also definitely want to pick up Virginia Sole-Smith’s new book; this excerpt on fatphobia and anti-fat bias in sports makes me want to read it even more.

My panic attacks look like full-blown heart attacks, so this article on How Not to Make It Worse When Someone Is Having a Panic Attack is a good primer for anyone who has to deal with people like me who are prone to getting them.

A few pieces about AI: in The Verge, AI Drake just set an impossible legal trap for Google, and in The Washington Post, Inside the secret list of websites that make AI chatbots sound smart. (According to that last link, this blog is ranked 357,921 in Google’s C4 dataset for training their AI.)

I’m enjoying being on Mastodon and not on Twitter anymore, but here’s a question worth asking: can ActivityPub save the internet?

Libraries with cafés and wine bars? Sign me up!

Mistakes Will Be Made:

It’s strange how we blame ourselves for everything. Even though we all lose the thread and break things and change our minds and foul everything up, most of us take it all so personally. We treat mistakes like avoidable anomalies, but mistakes are the main event, the meat of life. Our lives are just a long series of screw ups.

The Internet Thinks We Don’t Know Its Secret. But I Do.:

Perhaps this is the best standard of valuation for the internet. Someone said it weighs as much as a strawberry. But maybe it weighs as much as what you’d give it up for, if you could go back in time and make the internet never happen.

The radical reinvention of the English language:

To say that language shifts is not to say that it degrades or becomes corrupted. Rather, languages evolve in certain common ways. These include trends toward economy and efficiency, with more complex terms and phrases often replaced by those that are simpler, and toward new modes of expressiveness, as older words and phrases lose their punch.

Baroque, Purple, and Beautiful: In Praise of the Long, Complicated Sentence:

Within a long sentence—clause upon clause, the commas and semicolons, em-dashes and colons, parentheticals and appositions piling up—there can be a veritable maze of imagery, a labyrinth of connotation, a factory of concepts; the baroque and purple sentence is simultaneously an archive of consciousness at its most caffeinated and a dream of new worlds from words alone.

What Was Twitter, Anyway?:

Looking back, it’s hard not to see this as a tragic bargain. Twitter took the wild world of blogging and corralled the whole thing, offering writers a deal they couldn’t refuse: Instant, constant access to an enormous audience, without necessarily needing to write more than 140 characters. But they would never again be as alone with their thoughts, even when they were off the platform. Twitter follows you, mentally, and besides, anything can be brought back there for judgment.

Philanthropy’s equivalent of All Lives Matter”:

Philanthropy’s roots are stained with inequity and injustice. So much wealth in this country has been built on a legacy of slavery, stolen Indigenous land, worker exploitation, environmental degradation, and tax avoidance. It is a history of white people and white-led corporations creating the very injustices that they then get lauded for giving fractions of the wealth they hoarded to solve.

Select your birthday and this site will give you an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on that day. Amazing.

Snapshot of Hubble Telescope photo of galaxies in GOODS-North Field

The amazing video series Everything Is A Remix is all wrapped up and now available as one long video. Definitely worth watching if you haven’t been watching the individual pieces as they’ve come out:

And a few more:

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