Californians always seem to have too much of something: too much sun, too much traffic, too much money, too much water in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not enough elsewhere. Our recent spate of rainy days caused massive flooding and damage, and we gritted our teeth, slowing down for all the construction equipment, muttering the magic words “snowpack” under our breath. Every day in late December and January, the local newscast would have a story that started with, “The rain this past week has everybody asking, ‘Is the Drought over?'” Researchers say…
It Ain’t Enough
Our snowpack level is at 205%. Woohoo! Creeks have flooded, hills have slid, and all the measurements that can have spiked. But don’t be fooled by all the temporary flooding.
There is good news. The snowpack is at its deepest level in 30 years. News stories like this one are saying “the drought could be coming to an end.” Dams like Shasta and Oroville are back up to 65-70%. This is cool! How many times have we driven by Mt. Shasta when it didn’t have any snow in March? That was depressing. This is good. We want rain; we want snow. Sorry to all of you stuck in snow traffic on highway 50. Too many, California, too many skiers, too much traffic. Same as it ever was.
Teachers are worried. Screenwriters are watching developments closely. Technology creators are plowed forward, thinking only of the potential payoffs. Other technology creators are scrambling to create countermoves. The chatbot authors are coming.
The hullabaloo is over new artificial intelligence (AI) technology which can now plausibly replicate natural language. In December, the company OpenAI released a ChatGPT application which generated an immediate frenzy. ChatGPT can carry on conversations in concise and plain language, answer questions, and write coherent stories. Some students have already used the application to submit papers; some have already been caught. Microsoft has sunk money into the technology, and more big money is planned. As the NY Times puts it “the new gold rush” is in full sway.
Our blogger friend Fandango tested out the new ChatBot, and this has prompted the Provocative Question of the Week. He charged the GPT (his was an app called Genie) with writing a story using a handful of prompt words–a typical blog task. His big questions is whether this suggests that AI is now surpassing human intelligence, and, if so, what will happen. That is indeed a big and important question, but I’m more interested in the smaller version: Is an algorithm that writes simple stories indistinguishable from humans; why or why not?
Searching for information on the Internet has brought data to our fingertips, but it doesn’t always provide answers. It’s also made us a little lazy. Google searching means our inquisitiveness is filtered through an algorithm, designed to push answers at us whether that’s what we’re asking or not. Our lives are surrounded by forms of entertainment designed “For you,” yet curated content doesn’t satisfy our wanderlust either. Swiping or scanning through social media doesn’t replace the glory of a meandering conversation with a friend over lunch in the shade on a hot day. And nothing replaces the stacks.
When I was a kid, my library protocol was a systematic wander. Sometimes I started with the As or with a recommended book, but sometimes I started in the middle just letting my eye roam over titles with intrigue, interesting fonts, and curious covers. My one rule was I liked to get ten books; my one irritation was that you had to write out slips in groups of three, which vexed me because there was one left over. (But I never picked out nine or twelve.) I was ever so happy when the slips went away.
When I was an undergraduate, I figured out a way to get special permission to go into the stacks at Berkeley’s Doe Library, one of the largest libraries in the world. Normally, only the graduate students had access. In their lone carrels, the exuded a haunted yearning that required quiet, desperate thinking, not to mix with the mass of noisy, playful undergraduate puppies bounding about in Moffitt Library. I would study up in the stacks, too, but I liked to pull random books of the shelves to “steal moments,” perusing books unrelated to what I had to study. (How do English majors avoid studying? they read something else…)
Consider this, then a love letter to pulling random books of the shelf, a paean to browsing, to wandering through places where information is stored and letting curiosity take over. For any kind of search, changing the paradigm can yield unexpected fruit.