But so far he has not fully converted me. I still see these things as dead tools. During our call I tried to briefly counter Hofstadter by arguing that the robots don’t really think; they only spur human thought. Beginning as infants, we humans begin to construct models of the world, and those models are informed by difficult experiences and joyful experiences, emotional loss and joy, moral triumphs and moral failures—the messiness of human life. Much of the following wisdom is stored deep in the unconscious recesses of our minds, but some of it is turned into language.

AI is capable of synthesizing these linguistic expressions that people have put on the internet and, thus, in its training base. But, I would still argue, the machine has nothing like human learning. It plays on the surface with language, but the emotional process of learning from real experience and the hard-won accumulation of what we call wisdom is absent.

In a piece for The New Yorker, the computer scientist Jaron Lanier argued that AI is best thought of as “an innovative form of social cooperation.” It mixes the linguistic expressions of human minds in ways that are structured enough to be useful, but it is not, Lanier argues, “the invention of a new mind.”

I think I still believe this borderline view. But I confess that I believe it much less fervently than I did last week. Hofstadter basically asks: If AI is robustly solving intellectual problems, then who are you to say that it doesn’t think? Perhaps it is more than just a mixture of human expressions. Perhaps it synthesizes human thought in truly creative ways that truly produce new categories and new thoughts. Perhaps the kind of thinking that a disembodied machine that mostly encounters the world through language is radically different from the kind of thinking done by an embodied human mind, contained in a person moving around in the real world, but it is intelligence of some kind, operating somehow much faster and higher than our own. In addition, Hofstadter points out, these artificial brains are not limited by the factors that limit human brains – such as having to fit in a skull. And, he emphasizes, they improve at an amazing rate, while human intelligence does not.

It is hard to reject that argument.

I don’t know about you, but this is what life has been like for me since ChatGPT 3 was released. I find myself surrounded by radical uncertainty — uncertainty not only about where humanity is going but about what is human. Just when I think I’m starting to understand what’s going on, something surprising happens – the machines perform a new task, an authority figure changes his mind.

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