Will ChatGPT or Twitter Become the End of Human Intelligence?
Benjamin Franklin stated, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”
MIT’s well-known late Director of Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Patrick Winston, expanded upon this adage, saying, “Your success in life will be determined largely by your ability to speak, your ability to write, and the quality of your ideas. In that order.”
We are at a precarious point in human development, with the positive and negative impact of technology surrounding us as individuals and as a society. Technology has helped improve our living standards, extended our lives, cured diseases, fed our growing populations, and expanded our frontiers. But it has also helped create greater economic and digital divides, increased pollution and harm to our environment, and potentially endangered the intellectual development of our human population.
OpenAI’s ChatGPT has been recently thrusted into the limelight and generative AI’s potential has brought forth all kinds of questions. Will it end high school English? Will journalism survive? Will our productivity increase? And my own questions about the negative impact on our human intelligence.
There have already been concerns about the decline in writing ability for the past decade. Friends who are professors of philosophy, history, and other areas have noted this to me over the years. Some of them cite the negative impact of today’s social media–driven world, as their students are good at short sentences but not at long prose.
Looking at pre-covid assessments, approximately 40 percent of students who took the ACT writing exam in 2016 lacked the writing skills necessary to function in complete college-level English (“Why Kids Can’t Write,” NYTimes). All of this would have Franklin and Winston turning in their graves.
Using ChatGPT, students — or anyone — will not need to develop their writing deficiencies. It might level their playing field with their peers and colleagues more skilled in writing, but it could lessen their development in other key areas.
Hopefully, people who use ChatGPT or other AI writing tools will have more time to develop their ideas or speaking abilities. But ideas do develop when you go through the exercise of writing them down. So it begs the question of whether generative AI will lead to the decline of our writing skills and the development of new ideas.
How we process our thoughts into words is a reflection of the quality of our thinking. I believe we have already suffered from the impact of online chat, Twitter, and other forms of social media. Most people’s brains have atrophied into thinking with the confines of 280 characters.
But there is the possibility that using generative AI for writing will create a revolution in productivity. That is, those who struggled to write a proper memo at work could be liberated by ChatGPT. I personally could have avoided dozens of hours and days of writer’s block each time I was cursed to write those 20 to 50 page papers on Shakespeare and Milton in college. So perhaps my viewpoint is too narrow: Not only could I have avoided writer’s block, but it might have improved the quality of my writing — and thinking.
I can see generative AI evolving into a Jarvis-like assistant that would enhance our thinking and productivity across many fields. Eliminating the mundane tasks of writing repetitive prose and basic math calculations. But maybe this would only serve the Tony Starks of the world or a wider professional class, and would just create another digital divide.
After considering this, I believe that for the greater population, using generative AI to replace individual creative effort would simply lead to the decline of human intelligence as we know it. Not only would we become destined to be blobs of the Axiom Humans in the world of “WALL·E” in physical form, but mental blobs too.