While artificial intelligence has crept into nearly every facet of modern life, it has largely been an afterthought for most of us, even as we know it’s playing a big role in defense weaponry, pharmaceuticals and financial transactions. (Well, it’s been more than an afterthought for me. AI is at the center of my new high-tech thriller, Firefall.)
But the past half year, and particularly the past six weeks, leads me to think that AI will be front and center for an increasing number of us — particularly those in the so-called professional class, such as writers, journalists, academics, researchers … and now even artists.
Some of this may turn out to be merely diverting. But much of it will be epoch-changing and usher in fundamental changes to society.
On the diverting yet utilitarian side of the ledger comes the Lensa AI app, available on iOS and Android. If you want to have some fun, pony up $2.99 and try its Magic Avatars. You upload 12 to 20 profile images of yourself and within 20 minutes it spits back an assortment of fanciful images of yourself in various outfits (none of which you’ve ever worn) in a couple of dozen high-fidelity variations. For now at least, I’m using one of them for my social media profiles on Twitter and Facebook.
Likely to have a more long-term impact are the new crop of text-to-image generators, starting with DALL-e but quickly outpaced by Stable Diffusion and particularly Midjourney. The imagery coming out of these new AI tools runs the gamut from pedestrian and derivative to jaw-droppingly awesome. Above and below are a couple of examples.
Some of these images are just astonishing. There is, of course, considerable chatter about the ethical implications of all this, given that the works are derived from a catalogue of hundreds of millions of online images and no credit or attribution is given to the source material. We’ll see how that plays out over time.
Of equal or even greater import, OpenAI released ChatGPT on Nov. 30, and immediately changed the world. Writers, journalists, researchers and others have been having a field day, testing out ChatGPT’s strengths and shortcomings. It’s not a search engine but an advanced AI-powered chatbot launched by OpenAI that interacts in a conversational style to answer questions, to translate languages, to create prose and art — and an untold number of other applications.
As ChatGPT describes itself:
ChatGPT is a conversational Al system that is based on the GPT-3 (Generative Pretrained Transformer 3) language model. It is capable of generating human-like responses to text input, allowing it to engage in natural language conversations with users. Unlike other chatbots, which are typically limited to pre-programmed responses, ChatGPT can generate responses on the fly, allowing it to have more dynamic and varied conversations. Because it is based on the powerful GPT-3 model, ChatGPT has a vast knowledge base and is able to understand and respond to a wide range of topics.
ChatGPT takes a stab at short-form fiction
Most people are likely using the new tool for useful day-to-day things like creating interesting recipes or seeing which speakers you might want to invite to an event. But I’m curious about its fiction-writing abilities.
Now, I was a bit constrained because the programmers at OpenAI don’t let you use ChatGPT to cause harm or violence to others — quite the drawback if you’re a thriller author. So I input these instructions:
Please write a fictitious scene in a novel involving a woman who is partly a human and partly an artificial intelligence and robot and becomes recruited by the CIA to gather intelligence on a foreign adversary.
And here is what ChatGPT came up with:
The sun was just beginning to rise over the New York City skyline as Chloe stepped out of her apartment building. She had always loved this time of day, when the city was just waking up and the streets were still relatively empty. As she walked down the sidewalk, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement. Today was the day she had been waiting for her entire life.
As a hybrid of human and artificial intelligence, Chloe had always felt like she was meant for something more than the mundane tasks that had been assigned to her. She had always known that her unique blend of human intellect and robotic efficiency would be valuable to the right organization. And today, that organization had finally come calling.
As she made her way to the designated meeting place, Chloe couldn’t help but wonder what the future would hold. The Central Intelligence Agency had recruited her to gather intelligence on a foreign adversary, and she knew that the job would be both challenging and rewarding.
When she arrived at the meeting place, Chloe was greeted by a group of serious-looking agents. After introducing themselves, they led her to a secure facility where she was given a briefing on her mission.
“As you know, Chloe, your unique abilities make you the perfect candidate for this mission,” one of the agents explained. “We need you to gather intelligence on a foreign adversary that has been causing problems for us for some time. Your ability to hack into their systems and gather information without being detected will be crucial to the success of this mission.”
Chloe nodded, her excitement growing. She knew that this was the opportunity she had been waiting for, and she was ready to take on the challenge.
Over the next few weeks, Chloe worked tirelessly to gather intelligence on the foreign adversary. She used her hacking skills to infiltrate their systems and gather information, all while remaining undetected. As she delved deeper into the operation, she began to uncover a plot that threatened the security of the entire country.
As she pieced together the clues and passed them along to the CIA, Chloe knew that she was making a difference. And when the mission was finally complete and the threat had been neutralized, Chloe felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that she had never experienced before. She knew that she had made a real difference in the world, and that was a feeling that she would never forget.
ChatGPT won’t be putting John Grisham or Tom Clancy out of a job any time soon. But a new, more powerful version is due before mid-year. The possibilities boggle the mind.
For further readings (and listenings) on the subject, see:
• How Far Can AI Go? (Shelly Palmer)
• A Skeptical Take on the AI Revolution (The Ezra Klein Show podcast)
• Chat GPT Puts Google on Notice (Hard Fork podcast)
• How to Create Synthetic AI Art With Midjourney (How-to Geek)
• Anyone can use this AI art generator — that’s the risk (The Verge)