Quillette, Jan. 26, 2023
“ChatGPT is not sentient. Sentience refers to the ability to have subjective experiences, such as consciousness, emotions, and self-awareness. It does not have the ability to experience subjective sensations or emotions, and it does not possess self-awareness.”
Published in 2015, The Future of the Professions presents two options. Either health, education, divinity, law, journalism, management consulting, tax and audit, architecture (the professions discussed in detail in the book) will remain “reassuringly familiar” or they will be “steadily dismantled.” The authors, Richard and Daniel Susskind, go on to argue that the latter is more likely in the long term:
The introduction of a wide range of increasingly capable systems will, in various ways, displace much of the work of traditional professionals. In the short and medium terms these two futures will be realized in parallel. In the long run, the second future will dominate, we will find new and better ways to share expertise in society, and our professions will steadily be dismantled.
This is a familiar thesis. Books, articles, blog posts, and tweets predicting “disruption” and prescribing “digital transformation” have been common enough over the past decade. The latest AI to appear in this debate is the “large language model” or LLM. Last year, a Google software engineer named Blake Lemoine claimed that one of these—LaMDA—was sentient. Like many others, I was dismissive. Intelligence is not necessarily sentience. How AI does “intelligence” is very different to how humanity does it.
Even so, while many online chatbots on consumer websites today are irritatingly stupid, one should not take these as representing the state of the art. Current LLMs are far more impressive than early chatbots such as Eliza that appeared in the 1970s. Over Christmas, I noticed a lot of academics on Twitter fretting about how ChatGPT (released in November 2022) is being used by students to write essays. Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT is an LLM trained to write sentences and paragraphs in response to prompts. Prompts can take the form of questions. So students have started getting ChatGPT to write answers to their essay questions.
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