Everybody's talking about ChatGPT: Is artificial intelligence overrated?

Have you tried using ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer), which is an example of a chatbot?

It is defined by IBM as “a computer programme that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to understand customer questions and automate responses to them, simulating human conversation.”

Just ask a question through a chatbot and it’s answered on the screen as you watch. Why all the hype about chatbots? Is it justified?

If you search on Google or any other search engine, you get thousands or even millions of websites.

To get what you want, you have to read through the specific websites and select what you want.

If you are writing a journal article, book or dissertation, or literature review, finding out what others have said about your topic is exhausting and boring work. It is tedious and ecclesiastical: a lot of knowledge will wear you out.

Having taught research for a long time, I have always wished that it could be automated. Yet, the depth and breadth of the literature review often differentiates serious from unserious researchers.

It is no wonder writing essays for ghost students online is a thriving business.  Even serious documents such as dissertations are outsourced despite plagiarism tests.

We love the money made from gaining extra certificates but not the rigour of getting such certificates and the knowledge they stand for.  

One observer noted the increased popularity of higher degrees is driven less by our love for knowledge and new ideas but by the ‘ease’ of writing the dissertation or thesis, the hard part of acquiring such degrees.  

Have you noted the adverts for helping in writing proposals and dissertations, even on university notice boards? With ChatGPT, Bard and other chatbots, the ghostwriters’ jobs are on the line - long live innovation!

Where have ChatGPT by Open AI, Bard for Google and Bing by Microsoft been? I got the impression that Google and Microsoft had that software on the back burner but feared releasing it to the public to ‘protect’ their search engine and adverts.

We have been there before. Kodak invented the digital camera but did not want to cannibalise its film business. You know what happened.

Google and Microsoft seem to have learnt a lesson; if you can’t beat them, join them.

That is what our banks did when M-Pesa threatened their business. Most are now M-Pesa agents! Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction where one innovation replaces another is forever blowing.

Is the era of the search engine as we know it over?

Why go to Thika through Tala or Limuru when the superhighway is there? Why go through all the websites when ChatGPT or Bard will take you there, analysing and synthesising what you’re looking for? This is a dream deferred for too long.

To the vast majority, the golden age of research is here. Academic laziness is no longer a vice. But want a minute, we thought the same with Google and other search engines - ‘just Google it’.

I have had the privilege of teaching students before and after the internet and its search engines. Did it make any difference? Having the internet, search engines or ChatGPT is more like cooking. You can have all the ingredients and gadgets to cook, but it’s your experience, acumen, passion and sometimes a natural gift that will lead to a great meal.

In the same way, having access to the internet and ChatGPT will not invalidate our natural ability to analyse, synthesise and give an opinion. That is what makes us human.

 Spawning new ideas

ChatGPT and the technology before it did not make us more intelligent. They simply made us more complacent. The rigour of research before the internet has been attenuated. We spend more time checking for plagiarism than spawning new ideas, new theories or finding practical solutions.

While ChatGPT will explain how to do something, such as how to grow grapes, it will not do that practically. And none of these softwares have all the contexts. Running a business in US and Shamakhokho is very context-specific. Would ChatGPT know that?

But the biggest weakness with ChatGPT and others is that they only search from existing databases, the existing body of knowledge, generated by us. The word ‘artificial’ in artificial intelligence is just that!

While using ChatGPT, there is even a disclaimer on the currency of the information generated.

The bigger question should be; what is our contribution to the body of knowledge searched by ChatGPT and other chatbots? We could ask the same question for search engines such as Google.

Will the new AI-based chatbots widen the gap between knowledge generators and consumers? Africa is way behind the rest of the world in patents, research papers and, by extension, new knowledge. Will chatbots make it worse?

I fear that by using chatbots, our thought processes will be controlled by only a few people. What if our parliaments start using chatbots? What will happen to our freedom to talk and be human?

I’m already worried about how social media has made our lives impersonal. In the past, I chatted with fellow passengers in matatus or in queues. Today everyone is hooked to their screen.

Since chatbots are conversational or like natural speech, shall our ‘humanity’ be inundated by artificial intelligence, depersonalising us further?

But relax, ChatGPT and others will never replace curiosity, passion, our observation power, tacit knowledge or emotions. Those in education can recall the affective domain.

ChatGPT might be trending, but it’s our creativity, ingenuity, innovativeness, and curiosity that should be trending.

ChatGPT will not mark the end of thinking. When I gave ChatGPT one of my exams, it flopped. It can’t handle opinions or emotions; it could not analyse photos.

Let us think about business too. With the popularity of Chatbots, it’s obvious someone will try to monetise the search. Pay per question? Watch this space. Finally, what happened to the promises of blockchains? Will chatbots follow the same route?