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A Grin at the End: AI – Learn the true meaning

Carl Sampson

By Carl Sampson

It’s the end of the world, again. I’m not talking about the banking system, which sets itself on fire every few years. Nor am I talking about inflation, which features Congress spraying down the economy with trillions of dollars and amping up inflation at the same time the Federal Reserve is jacking up interest rates to slow down inflation.

I’m talking about the “real” end of the world – artificial intelligence.

We’re told that computers are getting to the point that they can assimilate mass quantities of information, “think” and then use that information to make “decisions” and even write about it. By being able to do that, they will take over the world.

That does sound pretty scary, except AI doesn’t work. Every demonstrations of AI I’ve seen has shown that it consistently gets things wrong. I’m not talking about nuance, I’m talking about facts. Like a TV commentator, when AI runs out of facts, it just makes stuff up. One computer whiz was showing how “smart” AI is by writing a biography of a reporter. The only problem: it had fundamental, factual errors. Another AI report showed the computer made up the names of books it supposedly referenced. 

If I were an editor and a reporter made those types of mistakes, I’d fire the reporter.

Another hot shot was predicting that AI will do away with universities. Believe me, college kids are way ahead of him. Not all, but some of them plagiarize or use AI for research papers. Any professor with his or her brights on can spot that. A professor told me that two students in the same class even submitted the same paper. They flunked.

What all of the folks, including the doomsday crowd, miss is that college is a place to gain background knowledge and, more importantly, it’s a place to learn how to find out what you don’t know. The act of writing a paper is meant to help students learn to do research. AI doesn’t do that.

All a professor has to do is have a five-minute chat with the student and it will become readily apparent that he or she, didn’t do the work.

A long time ago, I went to college. I took a class in 20th century Russian literature (don’t ask me why). The class was assigned to read Evgeny Zemyatin’s book, We, which was published in 1921. I had just read a book by Kurt Vonnegut called Player Piano, published in 1952. The plots were nearly identical, and when I mentioned it to the professor he challenged me to prove it was more than a coincidence.

Off to the library I went, pawing through card catalogs and other references. Sure enough, in a magazine interview, Vonnegut talked about how he had “cheerfully ripped off the plot of We.”

My only problem was the magazine: Playboy. The library did keep copies of it, but I had to ask for them because they were kept behind the periodicals counter.

Based on that and other non-Playboy research, I wrote my paper, but only got a “C.” I asked the professor about the grade and he said, “Playboy? Really?” and walked away.

But I learned a lot through that experience, about research, about Kurt Vonnegut and about not using Playboy as a reference. Ironically, both books were about societies where machines took over all of the work.

AI really stands for Artificial Ignorance. Once again, some students are learning how to push buttons and little else. They are short-changed in the process.

And how do I know AI will never take over? We all know where the on-off switch is.

Carl Sampson is an editor and writer. He lives in Stayton. Read his new book about computers and robots taking over the world. … Oh, wait, that’s already been done.

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