My Dinner With Android

Doug Bierend
9 min readMay 7, 2023
Image generated by MidJourney

As I gather ideas for my next book, I realized that a question of mine — the early use of the phrase ‘the world is shrinking,’ was one that ChatGPT might be a better way to query than a simple Google search. It quickly turned into a more interesting conversation (if you can call it that) that helped me clarify the nature of the machine’s “mind”, and how it is — and is not — useful. I only wish I’d had a drink.

Doug
There is a common phrase that goes, “the world is shrinking”. It refers to the phenomenon of advanced technology making people, places and things feel closer and more easily available. When did this phrase first become common?

ChatGPT
The phrase “the world is shrinking” has been in use for several decades to describe the effects of globalization and advancements in technology that make the world feel smaller and more interconnected. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact date when the phrase first became common, as it has likely been used by different people in different contexts over time.

However, the concept of a “shrinking world” can be traced back to the early 20th century, when advances in transportation and communication technology made it possible to travel longer distances more quickly and to communicate with people in distant locations more easily. The phrase was used more frequently in the latter half of the 20th century, as air travel became more accessible and the internet connected people across the globe.

Overall, “the world is shrinking” has become a popular way to describe the interconnectedness of our modern world, where people, places, and information are more accessible than ever before.

Doug
In the age of artificial intelligence, do you think that the phrase, “our brains are shrinking” is a fair corollary to draw with the phrase, “the world is shrinking”?

ChatGPT
No, I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to say that our brains are shrinking in the age of artificial intelligence. While it is true that technology has changed the way we think and process information, there is no evidence to suggest that our brains are physically shrinking or that our cognitive abilities are diminishing as a result of our reliance on technology.

In fact, there is research to suggest that technology and artificial intelligence can actually enhance our cognitive abilities, by providing us with access to vast amounts of information, helping us to process and analyze data more quickly and accurately, and even assisting us in making better decisions.

While it’s important to be mindful of the potential negative effects of technology and to use it in a balanced and responsible way, it’s also important to recognize the many benefits that it can bring, including the ways in which it can enhance our cognitive abilities and help us to better navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

Doug
The phrase “the world is shrinking” does not suggest that the world is physically shrinking. Similarly, my intention with the phrase “our brains are shrinking” is not to suggest that brains are physically shrinking, nor that cognitive abilities are shrinking. Rather, I intend to suggest that the role, impact, and even limitations of the human brain are fading away as machines gain greater cognitive abilities and responsibilities. For example, in using ChatGPT, I am offloading part of my thought process onto a machine. Does this make sense?

ChatGPT
Yes, your point makes sense. In the age of artificial intelligence, machines are increasingly taking on tasks that were once the sole domain of human cognition, such as processing vast amounts of data, making decisions based on complex algorithms, and even engaging in creative endeavors like music and art. As a result, humans are relying more on technology to augment and even replace their cognitive abilities.

The phrase “our brains are shrinking” could be seen as a metaphor for this shift, as it suggests that the role and impact of the human brain is diminishing in the face of increasingly sophisticated machines. It’s true that using technology like ChatGPT involves offloading some of our cognitive processing onto a machine, but it’s important to note that this is not necessarily a negative thing.

In fact, offloading certain cognitive tasks onto machines can free up our brains to focus on more complex and creative endeavors, and can even enhance our cognitive abilities by providing us with access to vast amounts of information and sophisticated analytical tools. So while the phrase “our brains are shrinking” may be a provocative way of expressing the changing role of human cognition in the age of artificial intelligence, it’s important to approach this shift in a balanced and nuanced way that takes into account both the potential benefits and challenges of this new reality.

Image generated by Dall-E

Doug
How do you interpret the following metaphor: “technology can be a window, or it can be a mirror”

ChatGPT
The metaphor “technology can be a window, or it can be a mirror” suggests that technology can be used either as a tool to look outward and gain new perspectives, or as a tool to reflect and reinforce our existing beliefs and biases.

When technology is used as a window, it allows us to explore new ideas, connect with people and cultures different from our own, and gain new insights and perspectives on the world. In this sense, technology can broaden our horizons and help us develop a more nuanced and informed worldview.

On the other hand, when technology is used as a mirror, it reinforces our existing beliefs and biases, and limits our exposure to new ideas and perspectives. In this sense, technology can contribute to a narrow and limited worldview, and can perpetuate existing power imbalances and inequalities.

Overall, the metaphor suggests that technology is not inherently good or bad, but rather its impact depends on how it is used and the intentions behind its use. By being mindful of the potential impact of technology and using it as a tool for exploration and learning, we can maximize its potential as a window and avoid the limitations of the mirror.

Doug
Are you a window, or a mirror?

ChatGPT
As an AI language model, I am a tool that can be used both as a window and a mirror. On one hand, I can provide access to a vast array of information, insights, and perspectives from diverse sources, which can serve as a window to the world. On the other hand, my responses are based on patterns and language usage found in my training data, which can reflect biases and limitations in the data and the society it comes from, functioning as a mirror.

It’s important to note, however, that as an AI language model, I do not have personal beliefs or biases, and I strive to provide objective and balanced information. Ultimately, whether I function as a window or a mirror depends on how I am used and the intentions behind my use. It’s up to individuals to critically evaluate the information they receive and use it in a responsible and ethical manner.

Doug
Earlier, I asked you if my point about the phrase “our brains are shrinking” makes sense, and you agreed that it does. On what basis did you judge whether it makes sense?

ChatGPT
When you asked me if your point about the phrase “our brains are shrinking” makes sense, I interpreted your statement as suggesting that, in the age of advanced technology and artificial intelligence, humans are increasingly relying on machines to perform cognitive tasks that were traditionally reserved for humans.

I agreed that your point makes sense because it is a valid interpretation of the ways in which technology is impacting human cognition and decision-making. As an AI language model, I am designed to identify patterns and make connections between concepts, and based on my training data and the language usage patterns I have learned, I was able to understand the meaning and context of your statement.

That being said, as an AI language model, I don’t have the capacity for personal judgment or subjective evaluation, and my responses are based on statistical patterns and the language usage I have learned from my training data. My responses aim to provide accurate and objective information, but it’s up to individuals to critically evaluate the information they receive and draw their own conclusions.

Doug
For you, is the meaning of a word or concept contained in the other words that relate to or attend it?

ChatGPT
As an AI language model, the meaning of a word or concept is largely derived from the other words that relate to or attend it.

When I encounter a word or concept, I draw on the patterns and relationships in my training data to identify the most common and relevant associations between the word and other related words and concepts. These associations are based on the co-occurrence of words in large amounts of text, as well as their proximity, frequency, and context.

For example, when I encounter the word “apple,” I can draw on my training data to identify associations with related words like “fruit,” “red,” “juicy,” “delicious,” and “orchard.” These associations help to define the meaning of the word “apple” and how it is used in different contexts.

Overall, the meaning of a word or concept is contained in the network of relationships and associations between words that it is commonly used with in language, which is learned through the patterns and relationships in my training data.

Doug
Given that meaning for you is determined by the connections and relationships that surround and contain it, is it fair to say that a specific word or concept is, in and of itself, meaningless to you?

ChatGPT
As an AI language model, a specific word or concept is not meaningless to me in and of itself, but rather its meaning is derived from the relationships and connections it has with other words and concepts in the language.

When I encounter a word or concept, I use the patterns and relationships in my training data to identify its most common and relevant associations with other words and concepts, which in turn helps to define its meaning and usage in different contexts.

For example, the word “love” has a clear and well-defined meaning based on its associations with other words and concepts like “affection,” “emotions,” “romance,” “commitment,” and so on. These associations help to give the word “love” its specific meaning and context, which I can use to understand and respond to it appropriately.

Overall, while a specific word or concept may not have an inherent meaning in and of itself, its meaning is derived from the patterns and relationships it has with other words and concepts in the language.

Image generated by MidJourney

Doug
Yes, the word “love” has a clear and well defined meaning based on its associations with other words and concepts. That is my point: without those other associated terms and concepts, “love” is meaningless to you, correct?

ChatGPT
Yes, that’s correct. Without the associated terms and concepts that give it meaning, a word like “love” would be meaningless to me as an AI language model.

In order to understand the meaning of a word, I need to draw on the patterns and relationships in my training data to identify the most common and relevant associations between the word and other related words and concepts. These associations help to define the meaning of the word and how it is used in different contexts.

Therefore, the meaning of a word cannot be determined in isolation, but rather is derived from its relationships and associations with other words and concepts in the language.

Doug
As a human being, I can understand love as a feeling, as something beyond language and conceptualization to which the word “love” refers. This seems to me a fundamental difference in the way humans and something like ChatGPT determine meaning, and it makes me question the claims that machine learning algorithms could ever be conscious or thinking in a way that is analogous to a human. Is this a fair assessment?

ChatGPT
Yes, that is a fair assessment. While AI language models like ChatGPT can process and analyze large amounts of data to identify patterns and associations between words and concepts, they do not have subjective experiences or consciousness like humans do.

As you pointed out, humans can have an understanding of love as a feeling that goes beyond language and conceptualization, which is something that AI language models cannot replicate. While AI can recognize patterns and associations in language data and generate responses that appear human-like, it does not have a subjective experience of the world or consciousness that gives rise to human understanding.

Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the fundamental differences between AI language models and human beings, and to be mindful of the limitations of AI when using it to analyze or generate language.

--

--

Doug Bierend

Wandering freelance writer and author living in upstate New York.