While the Earth was knocked off its axis six weeks ago when ChatGPT became an overnight global phenomenon, I believe we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet because for ChatGPT creator OpenAI and partner Microsoft, their new breakthrough is but a small step in their larger quest to “shape the trajectory of humanity.”
To get a better sense of that quite literally larger-than-life ambition, we need to go back 3-1/2 years to July of 2019 when Microsoft revealed it had invested $1 billion in OpenAI.
If you look at the screenshot below of that Microsoft announcement, you’ll see that in the italic text below the headline, Microsoft says the multiyear partnership is “founded on shared values of trustworthiness and empowerment.”
Well, thank goodness for that! Because I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear about somebody (or something) redirecting or altering or rewiring or otherwise controlling my humanity — and that of about 7.8 billion other people — I kinda feel like I’ve got a vested interest in knowing if they’re “trustworthy” and, whatever this means, “empowering.”
To give you some concrete historical context, here’s an excerpt from my July 31, 2019, Cloud Wars analysis headlined Microsoft’s $1B Bet: “Most Important Technological Development in Human History”:
If you believe it’s important to dream big dreams, then you gotta love the expectations behind Microsoft’s decision to invest $1 billion with partner OpenAI: to achieve nothing short of “shape the trajectory of humanity.”
There’s been a fair amount of chit-chat about the Microsoft-OpenAI partnership to create AGI (artificial general intelligence). But largely overlooked in those discussions has been the incredibly ambitious vision of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
In a Microsoft blog post describing the partnership and accompanying $1-billion multi-year investment by Microsoft in OpenAI, Altman revealed expectations as big and bold as you will ever encounter: “The creation of AGI will be the most important technological development in human history, with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity.”
Yeah, I know, those are all just words on a page — I get that. And yeah, it could’ve just been that whoever wrote that blog post had way, way too much coffee before hitting the keyboard. (But wait a GPT minute — maybe I’ve got that model all wrong — maybe instead of a jacked-up human, it was pre-MVP ChatGPT 1.0 that wrote that flowery forecast?)
But while it’s one thing to lay claim to the outrageous status of driving “the most important technological development in human history,” it is quite something else to believe — let alone say out loud — that you will “shape the trajectory of humanity.”
- Eradicate deadly diseases? Fabulous!
- Reduce hunger and poverty? Incredible!
- Boost opportunities for everyone? Marvelous?
- But “shape the trajectory of humanity” with AI? Hold on a damn second.
I love AI and have enormous respect for its achievements and even greater excitement for its potential to make life better for people across the globe in many, many ways. In fact, the only thing I don’t like about AI is its name — because while it might have been “artificial” 67 years ago when it came into being in 1956, today it’s as real as 5G networks and the flu and puppy dogs.
And because AI is now so real and because it’s moved from the realm of sci-fi speculation to mainstream use by hundreds of millions and perhaps even billions of people every single day, we ought to be more judicious in how we talk about it and its impact on the lives of the species that created it.
Like AI, I will turn 67 years young this year. So perhaps my skeptical reflections on the aspirations of OpenAI and Microsoft to “shape the trajectory of humanity” are those of a past-his-time fuddy-duddy who does not care to go gentle into that digital-human night.
Then again, maybe not.
As for ChatGPT, it seems like a phenomenal tool that seeds the way for more astonishing breakthroughs. And if it turns out that the ChatGPT phenomenon catapults Sam Altman’s OpenAI to valuations of $30 billion or so, then I say good for them — they’ve earned it.
But at the same time, all of us deserve the right to shape our own humanity, and I believe most people will relentlessly resist any suggestion to the contrary.
It is arrogant to an extreme, ignorant, and ironically a bit barbaric, to claim that any technology — even legendary 6-week-old ChatGPT — can determine the trajectory of the lives and the souls and the very humanity of the very beings who as a species created it.
And I would urge 37-year-old Sam Altman to shift his focus and his ambition and his fabulous brain away from the rather self-aggrandizing goal of unleashing “the most important technological development in human history” to creating marvelous new technologies that touch and improve the lives of people across the world.
And that, above all, enable those people to shape the trajectories of their own humanity.
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