Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
ChatGPT will (probably) not take my job
Last week the artificial intelligence research lab OpenAI introduced ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that can hold conversations, produce essays, write poems and code, and more. The response to it depends on which Internet you’re paying attention to. If you’re on techno-Twitter, you’re having a ton of fun and/or hailing it as the next Messiah. If you’re more of a mainstream media kind of person, you’re likely mourning the sudden loss of several professions, mine included.
Compare this Tweet from techno-Twitter: “Still blows my mind there’s zero mainstream coverage of the only thing everyone in tech is talking about. It’s like we just split the atom and everyone is talking about football.”
With this first sentence from The Guardian’s coverage: “Professors, programmers and journalists could all be out of a job in just a few years, after the latest chatbot . . . stunned onlookers with its writing ability, proficiency at complex tasks, and ease of use.”
Different opinion, same breathlessness. But is either warranted?
ChatGPT is impressive. The Progress Network’s (TPN) Brian Leli gave it a spin—it’s open to the public for now, so feel free to play with it here—asking it, “Is the world getting better?” It responded:
It’s difficult to say whether the world is getting better or worse overall, as there are many factors that can affect this. Some people may argue that the world is getting better in some ways, while others may point to ongoing challenges and issues that suggest the opposite. Ultimately, how one views the state of the world depends on their perspective and priorities.
Wishy-washy, but also fair enough! If you keep pushing the bot, though, its limits become apparent. Leli did just that, trying to ask the bot questions that would show them. Give the full conversation—which starts with “what could go right?” and ends with Leli and his wife “divorcing” and opening up competing ice cream shops—here. You’ll easily see why any comparisons between the bot and actual human intelligence are overwrought.
That doesn’t mean that ChatGPT isn’t really cool technology that will likely affect a variety of jobs. I just don’t see it taking them over. I can imagine it taking care of rote writing that I’d personally be happy to chuck out the window, though. Other journalists have tried using it to help them prep for presentations or interviews; coders are excited that it can write code and identify errors.
There do seem to be some bumps in the road ahead for teachers and professors who may have to soon assess whether student essays are bot- or human-written, although I also wonder if we’ll all learn to recognize the whiff of AI more quickly than we think. (By now I’ve read several essays that “hide” an AI-written paragraph within the article, and you can tell immediately that something is off.)
As TPN Member James Pethokoukis wrote in his Faster, Please! newsletter on ChatGPT, it’s probably too early to call where it will land on the sliding scale of innovation. (So far we’ve got consensus on somewhere between nifty and civilization-changing . . .) But both he and I are eyeing an outcome that’s not about job takeover but job augmentation: that ChatGPT “or some near-future incarnation will help us do our jobs better or even create new things for us to do.” Kind of like those Gmail auto-responses on steroids.
And then there’s the AI that is equal parts helpful and hilarious: scientists have created a machine called SHART (Synthetic Human Acoustic Reproduction Testing) that will use an algorithm to identify the presence of diarrheal diseases.
College may soon be cheaper, if you even want to go anymore
The anti-college backlash has finally reached colleges’ ears. Experts are expecting colleges to significantly lower their prices for 2024, says The Hechinger Report. Already, the “pace of annual increases in tuition and fees—which for years rose three times faster than the cost of everything else—has for the first time since the early 1980s slowed to a rate that’s well below inflation.”
It’s a much-needed and welcome adjustment in a landscape in need of many adjustments. While college should be affordable for those who would like to go—fewer than one in three Americans, says the Hechinger article, think it’s worth the cost—pathways to good jobs should also not be limited to attaining a degree. Kudos to Maryland, where Governor Larry Hogan announced in the spring that they would remove the four-year degree requirement from thousands of state jobs. Since then, almost 2,000 without four-year degrees have been hired, many for IT, customer service, and administrative roles.
Discourse magazine ran an excellent piece here on why it makes sense to shift from degree-based to skills-based hiring. Among the many reasons is that the former is a huge waste of talent. And for what it’s worth, the idea is bipartisan at a political level and also very popular with Americans in general. Already, companies like Google and Delta are reading the room.
Before we go
It’s the most wonderful time of the year—because the roundup lists are starting to arrive. Here’s Euronews’ extensive one of 2022’s positive environmental stories.
A midterm election success that we missed: New Mexico, after experimenting with a pilot program that offered free child care for families of certain incomes, approved an amendment to “enshrine child care funding in its constitution.” Who is footing the bill, you ask? In part, oil and gas production revenue.
Hey, autocracies. Your weaknesses are showing. TPN Member Fareed Zakaria has a nice end-of-year ode to democracy’s enduring strength.
Below in the links section, subtitled smart glasses for deaf people, sperm-stopping birth control for everyone, and more.
The modern Muslim world | S3 E11
This week on the What Could Go Right? podcast: Are we in an ebb of liberalism worldwide, or are recent events like the protests in Iran a sign of pushback? What would a “John Locke” movement for Islam look like? We’re joined by Mustafa Akyol, senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, whose work examines the intersection of religion, culture, and government. Plus, the first GMO aimed at solving a public health issue, social media’s surprisingly positive effects on American teens, and the new paradigm for gay marriage in the US. | Listen to the episode
Other good stuff in the news 🦎
Energy & Environment:
- New energy storage technologies hold key to renewable transition | Financial Times
- Beyond solar: Here’s what the clean energy future might look like | Grist
- World’s largest soil carbon removal project enlists Kenyan pastoralists | The Guardian
- Spoonbills rebound as UK farmers bolster tree cover and wetlands | The Guardian
- Critically endangered tiny gecko comes back from the brink | New Scientist
- Old-growth forests provide climate change relief for some bird species | EcoWatch
- Kenyan female innovator awarded $1.2M for providing clean cooking stove | Africanews
- Green energy tops power from fossil fuels in Greece | Kathimerini
Science & Tech:
- Captioned smart glasses let deaf people see, rewind conversations | CBS News
- A new fanless cooling ‘chip’ could lead to quieter, higher-performing laptops | CNET
- Australia’s first rocket set to launch in 2023 | Freethink
- ‘World’s first’ steam-propelled spacecraft heads to the moon and beyond | Interesting Engineering
- The transistor at 75: The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention | IEEE Spectrum
- A secret of developing life: In some instances the fetus helps repair a ruptured amniotic sac | Medical Xpress
- What’s the best design for splash-free urinal? Physics now has the answer | Ars Technica
Politics & Policy:
- Immigration naturalizations in the US highest in a decade | The Hill
- France bans short haul domestic flights in favor of train travel | Euronews
- US to pay millions to move tribes threatened by climate change | The New York Times
- Abu Dhabi reduces number of single-use plastic bags by half a million per day | The National
- UK government backs first nuclear plant in 35 years | EcoWatch
- With federal aid on the table, utilities shift to embrace climate goals | The New York Times
- What cities can learn from Kansas City’s fare-free transit program | Governing
- Cigarette smoking rates down sharply among US young adults | Gallup
- Smart wireless bandages could help heal chronic wounds | IET
- Rubella eliminated from Singapore | World Health Organization
- New chemo pump for brain tumors could avoid side effects | Freethink
- Bangladesh attains huge success in reducing infant, maternal mortality | The Business Standard
- Lobsters could hold the key to birth control that doesn’t totally suck | Inverse
- In the hunt for a male contraceptive, scientists look to stop sperm in their tracks | NPR
- US to end mpox emergency declaration | Reuters
Society & Culture:
- Poll: Most Republicans believe midterms were ‘free and fair’ | Forbes
- More men are staying out of the workforce to care for kids | Bloomberg
- An all-female on-field referee team took charge of a men’s World Cup game for the first time | BBC
- Namibia’s ruling party chooses first female presidential candidate | Voice of America
- Benin Bronzes: Nigeria hails ‘great day’ as London museum signs over looted objects | BBC
- Cuba to allow female boxers to compete for first time in six decades | Reuters
- Normal America strikes back | Axios
- US jobless claims fell, showing solid labor market | The Wall Street Journal
- US gas prices plunge toward $3 a gallon as demand drops worldwide | The Washington Post
TPN Member originals 🧠
(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)
- James Kirchick on America’s enormous progress on gay rights | Yascha Mounk
- The culture workers go on strike | Alissa Quart
- Iran’s struggle against mandated religious practices | Mustafa Akyol
- The dubious roots of religious police in Islam | Mustafa Akyol
- Harvard, Herschel Walker and ‘tokenism’ | John McWhorter
- Try to be a good person | Matthew Yglesias
- The climate left’s plans for the next two years are bad | Matthew Yglesias
- How to defuse a classroom conflict: Make it more complex | Jonathan Haidt
- No, the US military is not being weakened by “wokeness” | Theodore R. Johnson
- What China tells us about the dynamics of nonviolent protest | Ruth Ben-Ghiat
- The Generation X, hip-hop-quoting congressman who’s taking a big step | Peniel E. Joseph
- Enough about democracy’s weaknesses. Let’s talk about its strengths. | Fareed Zakaria
- Khalid Amiri and the fight for a peaceful Afghanistan | Faisal Saeed Al Mutar
- Biden can help Zelensky, and Ukraine, by pushing for peace | Robert Wright
- America’s landmark climate law | Jason Bordoff
- Europe is wrong to blame the US for its energy problems | Jason Bordoff
- Jeremy Grantham on investing in green tech | Tyler Cowen
Until Next Time
“Why You Should Not Use OpenAI to Do Your Homework,” by OpenAI. 👇