Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 23, No. 2, 2024
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Robert J. Lewis
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Louis René Beres
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




R.J.Andres, Ph.D, is a retired Long Island, New York, mathematics and English teacher and author of numerous math textbooks.

In René Descartes’s Discourse on Method (1637), he defines the human being as a thinking reality. His Latin statement, “cogito, ergo sum”, is usually translated into English as "I think, therefore I am.”

However, for anyone to expect an A.I. chatbot to say this in the present indicative (“I think” and “I am”) and to expect this chatbot to be some insightful budding Hamlet meditating on what it means “to be” is certain to be disappointed.

Let’s be clear, artificial intelligence with its silicone neural-network is not really intelligence. It’s actually more about scanning mountains of data and “doing” something with it (rather more in the light of pattern recognition) than thinking. And in no way is it the same as really knowing things, of expressing a living self and the joy of being alive or knowing that finding a purpose in life is a lot harder than it looks.

With generative A.I., a new entry in the digital mind-field, we have created a cognitive amoral machine whose goals determined by some carbon-based human’s algorithms are said to echo those fearsome dangers once described in ancient Greek myths. In particular, four characters, Prometheus, Cassandra, Pandora, and Narcissus, have once again taken center stage and are living large in our tech-world.

Prometheus, the first tech entrepreneur, in defiance of the Olympian gods, stole fire (a metaphor for technology) and was caught giving it to humanity.

Of course, the gods kept fire from man because they didn’t trust humans,and considering that Homo sapiens is the only species that systematically kills its own kind, who could blame them? Clearly, Prometheus is the mythic stand-in for the liberating power of knowledge and the threat of technological overreach and self-destruction. Furthermore, with generative A.I. as the new fire, this is surely our modern Promethean moment. Thus, with the world’s cache of nuclear weapons and accessible software for killing by machine, the question is how much autonomy do we grant to A.I. in running next-generation lethal weapons?

Then again, much as we need guardrails and absolute control of the A.I. product, we should keep in mind the ironic insight of the Hungarian-born polymath and a pioneer of A.I., John von Neumann, who said “there is no cure for progress.”

Cassandra, on the other hand, was a Trojan priestess fated by the god Apollo to speak true prophecies, usually of impending disasters, but never to be believed.

Our recent Cassandras are the six CEOs from Anthropic, OpenAI, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Meta, who have visited our president and other world leaders to alert them to the dangers of A.I. stalking our future. As for the 'doomers,' those true believers in imminent disaster from A.I., the jury is still out.

And then there is Pandora, whose name means ‘all-giving,’ and not in a positive way. As a wedding gift, Zeus (king of the gods) gave her a box (or jar) containing all the evils of the cosmos. Apparently, angry with Prometheus for having stolen fire, Zeus decided to punish mortals and to use Pandora as an instrument of his wrath. Despite being warned never to open that box, Pandora, curious to a fault, looked within and unleashed all possible miseries on mankind; yet, strangely enough, there was one gift left behind – hope. And we can only.

Hence, the question is whether these generative A.I. algorithms and the imminent super-intelligent AGI, (Artificial General Intelligence), will create responses that include some truly Pandoric ‘out-of-the-box’ existential threats to humanity. While we are not alone in thinking that, consider the following ominous comment:

Mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority
alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.
Bill Gates (Cofounder of Microsoft) and Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI)

Lastly, there is Narcissus who is forever engaged in a truly impossible lovers’ quarrel with himself. As a cautionary tale of self-obsession, he is both unable to resist falling in love with his own reflection and unable to empathize with other humans. Thus, Narcissus can be seen as an A.I. surrogate. In other words, with generative A.I. rewriting its own code for its own purposes, we may have lost control over our own algorithms through a silicone “self-centered” disorder.

Of course, while we can say we are what we make and that A.I. is merely an avatar for us, the sense of self-awareness or intentionality can never be present in A.I. As a result, AI suffers from an unconscious narcissism and zero empathy. By comparison to what makes us human, there is nothing less real, less personal, less poetic or more unpredictable than some chatbot captive to an algorithm and the “mindless” rush of electrons. And I should think that is not a good thing.













Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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