The future is so bright…

It’s burned my retinas off, and given me horrific third degree burns.

I was a child of the 70s/80s, my golden years I grew up with computers that used punch card (for those people that had computers) and televisions that were deeper than they were wide (when the bbc still would announce a programme was “IN COLOUR” in case your tv wasn’t)

I grew up optimisitic about the future, about self driving cars (that hovered), computers that could fit in your hand and robots with ai that promised to relieve humanity of all the aches and pains of work and its associated worries.

Which is stupid really because I also grew up reading 2000ad and it very much spelt out what that world would actually look like. Hovering drones used to surviel your every move. Dredd? Robots with smart AI likely to destabilise employment leading to a world where people can’t work even if they want to? Dredd? A class of people so bored by work free life that they attend ultra violent sports to numb their day? I mean, come on.

The thing is, maybe it’s my age, but it feels like I’ve run out of optimisim for science. There was a while there, when I’d read about the potential of CRISPR-9 (described as a copy and paste for DNA edits) you could hold some optimism, and then my god, the miracle of being able to decode the dna of the COVID-19 virus and swiftly build a Vacine in record time. Self driving cars looked they were on the cusp of happening, AI! Flip CHAT GPT!

All of these incredible technologies appeared and suddenly you’re faced with the crushing reality, CRISPER-9 still has some hope, I think, if we don’t turn entirely into a planet of the anti-intellectual anti-vaxxers. Self driving cars, turns out that last little 5% or so of getting these things to work properly? that’s the real hard stuff. That’s the getting the last bit of sauce out of the ketchup bottle that’s still stuck to the sides of the bottle, there’s no easy way to do that. Chat GPT? AI? Turns out that’s basically a chinese room that doesn’t really know what’s saying and will just make stuff up.

(A Chinese room, is an old metapor about intelligence, which suggests that intelligence might be like putting a person who doesn’t speak chinese into a vast room filled with boxes with chinese characters on them, and a slot that he receives input from – the input are chinese characters and he goes and builds a response by matching his input with the boxes around the room. Needless to say, the man doesn’t speak nor read chinese, but the responses he delivers to the inputs make sense, because he knows how to build answers based on the input – and that’s what’s sort of happening with chat gpt, a little computer man who doesn’t speak any language is getting input in english and going to his massive database of boxes and matching a response to what he’s been asked, he doesn’t know or understand the question, but he does know that if he gets the words “What planet is this” he looks it up in his big ol’ database and gets answers from box 1, box 255, box 1090 and together they read “it’s planet earth”.

On reflection this is a terrible metaphore but I suppose we needed it before everyone had autocorrect, which, in essence is also a chinese room and as such prone to being useless)

Anyway, turns out Chat GPT will lie, and WORSE it turns out, people respect a certain authoriatative voice which means it lies convincingly.

I still cling to a certain tech optimism, I have my Iain M Banks books, thank you very much.

But it was all so much easier to believe the future would be perfect before we started living in it.