We can’t rely on this to save us
My one problem with AI is, when written down, it’s indistinguishable from the foreshortened version of the name “Albert.” Other than that I have no apprehension of Artificial Intelligence. So far, in fact, it seems to be right on the money.
A case in point. I recently asked the AI chatbot “ChatGP” several questions and received several most satisfying replies, which I posted to my Facebook page. For instance, one question I asked ChatGPT was, “Did we really go to the moon?” Yes we did. Another I asked: “Was 9/11 an inside job?” No it was not. Sensible and correct and sane answers, as far as I’m concerned. So far so good.
This morning I asked ChatGPT, “Can new technology save us from climate change?” The answer was similarly sensible: “New technology can play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change,” the chatbot replied, “but it cannot single-handedly ‘save’ us from its impacts.” In other words, ChatGPT knows its limitations. I’m beginning to like this ChatGPT.
John Kerry agrees. In fact, he’d take the whole question even further. Relying on technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is “dangerous” and a cause for “alarm,” Mr Kerry warned. The US Special Presidential Envoy for climate said in a recent interview that new technologies may not prevent the world from passing tipping points, or key temperature thresholds that, once passed, could trigger an avalanche of irreversible physical effects.
Mr Kerry continued, “Some scientists suggest that it’s possible there could be an overshoot [beyond the limit of a 1.5C rise in global temperatures] and you could clawback, so to speak -– you have technologies and other things that allow you to come back. The danger with that, which alarms me the most and motivates me the most, is that according to the science and the best scientists in the world, we may be at or past several tipping points that they have been warning us about for some time,” he said. “That’s the danger, the irreversibility.”
In other words, we can’t be complacent. We have already passed (or are about to pass) certain alarming tipping points. Some new future technology isn’t going to come along and rescue us. We have to do it ourselves and we must begin right away. We can’t hope that our future selves will save us from our present selves.
It’s a terrible conundrum over which there is an alarming lack of interest. The effects of global climate change are impacting our lives in increasing ways. For the most part those ways have not been enough to jog us out of our torpor, and by the time it is enough, it already could be too late.
I cannot help but wonder if good old human stupidity is at the root. So I asked ChatGPT: Is there any explanation for human stupidity? The reply went like this: “Overall, the causes of what may be perceived as human stupidity are complex and multifaceted, and it is important to approach the topic with sensitivity and nuance. Instead of simply labelling behaviour as stupid or irrational, it may be more productive to examine the underlying factors that contribute to such behaviour and work to address them.”
In other words, ChatGPT doesn’t believe it can save us, but despite all evidence that it would be wise to do so, it hasn’t lost faith in us. Once again I must agree with our little robot friend. Neither have I. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.