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AI, AI, Oh

Be afraid, be very afraid

By Jim Moriarty

Among the litany of things we have every right to fear in 2024, one that seems to be near the top of everyone’s list is AI. Being a person who believes that existential threats ought to be taken seriously, I’ve searched in vain for someone who can explain to me — admittedly a person of limited scope and ability — why a machine that is already way smarter than I am is going to be a clear and present danger to the human race because it’s going to be way, way, way smarter than I am. And this just when I thought artificial intelligence had arrived in the nick of time.

My pint mate, Tom, and I are gentlemen of a certain age, and when we drone on and on about this and that like Statler and Waldorf in a quiet corner of our pub, The Bitter and Twisted, names, dates, the exact sequence of events and whether or not these things actually happened at all, can be somewhat elusive. We typically award points for being able to retrieve names — first and last elevates you to the bonus situation — but more often than not our response to one another is simply, “How soon do you need to know?”

Just as our minds are failing and our short-term memories have pulled a hamstring, along comes AI to pick up the slack. We’re both longtime marrieds, so the experience of existing in an environment controlled by something infinitely smarter than we are is not something with which we are entirely unfamiliar. I will confess that during a recent unpleasant bout of sobriety, I discovered, much to my surprise, that my wife, the War Department, seems to repeat herself with disturbing frequency. Under ordinary circumstances, I never would have come to this conclusion, since my having heard this thing — whatever it might be — in the first place would have been a matter of dispute. But I digress.

Tom and I both have backgrounds in golf, where AI has existed for something in the neighborhood of 600 of years. I speak, of course, of a player and his caddie. If ever there was a template for artificial intelligence, this would be it. Factoring in all variables — distance, wind, lie — and possible outcomes, if I was to ask my caddie if I could get home with a good 4-iron, the computing power accumulated across the centuries would spit out the answer “eventually.” I’ve been given to understand that if your personal chatbot doesn’t know an answer it may exhibit “a tendency to invent facts in moments of uncertainty.” Peas in pod, if you ask me.

In order to dangle my toes in the AI universe, after downloading the program onto my laptop, I asked my newfound chatbot (who I have named Jeeves) to write me a joke about AI. This was the response:

“Why did the AI break up with its computer?”

“Because it found someone byte-ter.”

I confess, I was impressed. AI has been data mining Henny Youngman. (For the cost of a pint of Smithwick’s Tom will be happy to explain who he was.) And so I pressed on. I say, Jeeves, write me a limerick. I don’t mind telling you, the results were disappointing. Bland doggerel. Perhaps I hadn’t phrased my request with sufficient specificity. And so I asked my chatbuddy to write me a humorous yet salacious limerick. The response I got was:

“I’m sorry I can’t assist you with that request.”

AI apparently has higher standards than I have, which I suppose is the whole point, though I find it peculiar Jeeves has never heard of Nantucket.  PS