The VisiCalc-Moment of ChatGPT: 12 quick comments on the current ‘AI’ debate
A couple of quick thoughts on the current ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) debate:
- The purpose of a computer is automation. So the whole point of computers is the ability to automatically process specific tasks. As we can see on a daily basis, these tasks can be enormously complex. Nonetheless — everything that happens on a computer is automation. This includes the processes that we are currently calling ‘Artificial Intelligence’. There is no fundamental difference between automatically sorting numbers and automatically drawing pictures.
- It has been noted before — and I am happy to repeat it again: the terms ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and ‘Neural Networks’ are misleading. They suggest a biological agency where there is none. While the concepts are certainly inspired by nature, we are not dealing with biology. ‘Neural Network’ is a fancy name for a set of algorithms that can also be described as ‘non-linear statistical data modelling tools’. Less fancy, more accurate.
- With ChatGPT, ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has reached its VisiCalc moment. In case you don’t know what VisiCalc is: it was the first spreadsheet. In 1979, VisiCalc enabled users to compute and re-compute a large set of numerical relations. Change one value and the whole table is automatically updated. For its time, VisiCalc was extremely powerful and practical. It was the first application on a home computer that was really useful. The same is true for ChatGPT. It is the first AI application on a home computer that is truly useful. VisiCalc saved you the tedium of re-computing numeric data, ChatGPT saves you the tedium of writing text.
- In this sense, I suggest to treat ChatGPT simply as a productivity tool. It helps you to produce more text in a shorter amount of time. The quality varies — but it is good enough for most purposes. (I know this is a bit of an oversimplification. But at the same time we should not underestimate the impact of a good productivity tool.)
- The entire history of technology is about annihilating jobs. The cotton mills destroyed traditional spinning and weaving communities. The steam engine replaced muscle power. The…