We are living in a digital world, and there is no escape. Like the bionic limbs of science fiction, cellphones feel like extensions of the hands that hold them. Earbuds and headphones, virtual reality headsets and Google Glasses may as well be the cyborg exoskeleton. We are no longer people but the disembodied eyes and ears of the Metaverse witnessing the speedy expansion of the Internet Age, which will one day render all humanity obsolete with automation. This is a worry of mine and a goal for the computer scientist who believes that technology can optimize all aspects of life.
The latest so-called advancement in artificial intelligence could be particularly devastating — ChatGPT is a computer program that, in seconds, can produce a convincing essay. The chatbot works unprecedentedly well: it has already written a speech given on the House floor by a congressman, completed a TV interview, and will soon replace laid-off Buzzfeed journalists in an attempt to cut costs. I remember scoffing year after year at the notion that a computer could ever write a best-selling book, no less a passable essay. I always figured that the minimum qualification for a writer is that they themself must be capable of thought and feeling. But I was wrong because the market strictly prefers assembly-line mechanization to the authentic creative process.
Since the Industrial Revolution, Americans have bought into that fallacy, assuming the role of purposeless consumers. The slogan of a recent advertising campaign by Coca-Cola sums it up best: “Because I Can.” Not because I need, nor because I think, but because I can. The late comedian Bill Hicks, known for his irreverent broadsides against corporatism, warned that we are living in the United States of Advertising, not the United States of America. Cross-site tracking and targeted advertising on the Web have turned the digital ecosphere into a dystopian, for-profit surveillance state — in some countries, a vicious arm of autocracy. In China, for example, censorship of the Tiananmen Square massacre is now automated, and those who write about the event online are referred to authorities by invisible yet all-seeing machine learning algorithms.
The computer is now thinking for us–and limiting our understanding of the world and the history that has molded it. For that reason, I will never use ChatGPT to write my essays. In academia, the essay is as popular as it is because writing one sharpens the critical thinking skills crucial to surviving in a society threatened by disinformation and complacency. I warn my peers not to let artificial intelligence think for them lest they will not be able to think for themselves.
I dreamed of a world without so many machines and woke up into one where wars are fought online and with remote-controlled drones; where it is often impossible to get through to a person when calling an automated customer service line for assistance; and where grocery stores are starting to operate without cashiers. Recently, a chatbot company promised $1,000,000 to any appellate lawyer who would be willing to allow its artificial intelligence to argue a case before the Supreme Court in their place. Where do we draw the line?
To be clear, I am not a Luddite. After I graduate, I do not intend on moving off-the-grid and trading my various gadgets for a cabin in the woods. I embrace technological advancement, but only to an extent. Computers have their place, and so do people. Where technology infringes on human creativity rather than assisting it, I object to it, especially if it stifles learning. Only in the 21st century would students pay a premium to go to college just to use ChatGPT to skirt deadlines instead of making good on their investment and actually learning.
My advice to Cornellians is to write your own essays because laziness simply cannot cut it. In a world without conviction, young people need to think for themselves and take accountability, especially in the classroom. We are not passive users, viewers and followers as the Silicon Valley technocrats label us. We are free-spirited innovators with limitless creative potential, and no machine is more visionary than we are when we dare to dream. ChatGPT is, at best, the newest development in short-sighted consumerism and, at worst, a weapon to corrupt freethinking that we all must steer clear of.
Gabriel Levin (he/him) is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Almost Fit to Print runs every other Monday this semester.