How ChatGPT & Other Creative AIs Will Impact Our Lives

Insight categories: AI and MLTechnology

I have the feeling that sooner than later, we're all going to learn what it's like to have creative AIs like ChatGPT as part of our everyday lives. I can't resist thinking about what that will be like.

 As usual, when I speculate about the future, I like to look back at the past to pick up some clues. I'm old enough to have spent some of my adult life pre-Web. Having ubiquitous connectivity to many information sources is common today, but when I was a teen and young adult, this was still the subject of science fiction. If we wanted to know something then, we had to get a book or go to a library and look it up.

 My wife likes to say she's not technical, but it sometimes seems like she's always asking me questions that I end up using technology to answer. 

As a recent example, she and I both enjoy watching "cozy" mystery shows together—those with very little violence or bloodshed — when we're relaxing in the evening. Because we're avid watchers, we're constantly on the lookout for a series that's new to us, even when it's an old one. 

We recently started watching a 15+ year-old series that features the classic movie and television actor Dick van Dyke and his son. We both really liked it. At the end of the first installment, my wife asked me, "What other mystery series has Dick van Dyke been in? He must be very old — is he still alive?"

Recommended reading: Tips for Staying Relevant in the Age of Creative AIs Like ChatGPT

Before the Web, these questions would have been imponderables — not easily answered without a trip to the public library. In general, they would have been answered with a shrug and, "I don't know."

But in the internet age, I simply took my phone out of my pocket, went to Wikipedia, and instantly pulled up an article about actor and comedian Dick van Dyke. I found out that he is, in fact, still alive in 2023 — and 97 years old! He made the action series we're now enjoying when he was 81 years old (amazing), and in the past he made another long-running mystery series, also with his son, that my wife and I are looking forward to watching next.

 This is a trivial, everyday example, but typical of our expectations today for instant access to information. 

In this case, the technology (phone, Web, crowd-authored encyclopedia, etc.) also enriched my life and my wife's — at least a little bit — by providing us with interesting information and knowledge about an entertainment series I think we'll both enjoy. Pre-internet, it would have been such a hassle to get this information that neither of us would have bothered.

Another question my wife asked before a long road trip was, "What is the weather like along the way?" I've since learned that there is, in fact, at least one app in the App Store that answers that question. But suppose there wasn't. How would I answer her?

To do this reasonably well "by hand" on my phone, I would first determine the route to my destination. I'd then compute my drive-time to various intermediate points along it. Next, I'd look up the weather forecast for each location, at the time I was expected to be driving through it. I'd tabulate all this, and show her the answer. To be a stickler, I'd keep this up-to-date as we traveled along our route, accounting for the most current forecasts and projected arrival times.

Instead, my response was to shrug and say "I don't know". It was simply too much of a hassle to figure all this out. I could conceivably have written a short script that accessed the various information sources required and did the various computations for me, but that seemed like a hassle too, and definitely not worth the time it would take, at least in my mind. 

Suppose that we had access to all the weather information she requested, though. We could have perhaps planned a better route, to maneuver around a storm, for example. We could also have incorporated the weather into our projected drive times, and refined our route—and forecasts—that way. But again, more hassle than I thought it'd be worth for a single trip. We just drove.

In the future, though, with creative AIs, my wife or I will presumably be able to describe to the AI what it is that I want, and the AI will generate a one-off application to answer the question. At some point — maybe reasonably soon — the AI can probably answer my wife's original question directly: "What is the weather like along our route?" In the short term, though, it may need a more detailed description like, "Write a script that determines a route from point A to point B and looks up the weather forecast at 10 evenly spaced intermediate points along that route based on the current expected time of arrival at that intermediate point and displays the answers on an annotated route map," (or something even more detailed). 

I expect that, in general, AIs will evolve from needing a more detailed description as in my example to something higher-level (my wife's original question, for example) over time, though that evolution could be very quick.

Recommended reading: Software, the Last Handmade Thing

Making something that's currently a hassle easy to do may seem trivial, but it actually improves our lives. Things that are useful but a nuisance only tend to get done when they are necessary, or when they have the potential to bring a significant reward. But that means that many of life's possibilities are left on the table. 

Many of us — perhaps all of us at times — have the tendency to believe that happiness comes from the big things in life: family, health, career success. And indeed, those things are important. 

But within that larger context, it is the small, everyday rewards in life that make it richer; little things like avoiding bad weather along your route, or finding a new mystery series to enjoy with your wife. These small things really add to life's variety, enjoyment and safety. 

Among all the uncertainty about how creative AIs will impact our lives and work, I think we can also look forward to its increasing the things we can know and do. 

Whether that's comparable in scope to what we've already seen from the Web remains to be seen, though I suspect it will be just as game-changing. I'm also excited that it may very well help me answer the next generation of questions that my wife comes up with!

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Dr. Jim Walsh


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