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Does our fate lie in our fakes?

If you had a fantasy friend when you were a kid, or led an active fantasy life when you grew up, you’re in for a treat – for the rest of your days and nights. Because AI, still a baby learning to walk, can envelop you in a giant hug of unreality. You can live there blissfully mindless that the real world is spinning apart because the world you’ve created looks and sounds and feels exactly how you want it to. Take this deep fake call, the first of many to come in this year’s US elections. Indeed, The Guardian reported that more than 100 paid ads impersonating British PM Rishi Sunak appeared on social media platforms last month alone.

Clearly, regulators must rush to spot and sanction AI fakes, and they are.

But we also need to learn more about AI in a way we didn’t when social media stuck its needle in our arms. We can’t leave our fate to governments like we did when Big Tech raced so far ahead that governments were enfeebled to stop it, and still are.

I suspect most of us are reacting to one narrative of AI’s future, the horror story where losing our jobs will be the mildest sanction; losing our lives to some murderous robot more likely. But technology as a job-evaporator is a very old story, as this essay in a 1938 edition of the MIT Technology Review attests (see page 77).

Today 1.4 million Canadians are tech-workers. If tech didn’t exist, if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Elon Musk and Geoffrey Hinton weren’t around, what would our world look like? More to the point, what would our employment rate look like? Likely what it has been this decade and last.

I’m on the other side of that story. I think AI can perform miracles, even through I’m an ‘old writer’ and even in the past year, AI has turned writing on its head. Remember, ChatGPT has existed for only 13 months, with huge improvements in speed and capabilities predicted for this coming year.

During the pandemic Open AI launched the first large language model that could ‘write’. While it could string a sentence together, no writer would feel threatened. Then in November 2022, a little over a year ago, we got ChatGPT. A thousand times more sophisticated.

Oh oh.

But even in that short a time, I’ve found that AI is an astounding researcher and writing assistant.

At the bottom of every Saturday edition of my blog is a pitch for our Ramsay Travels. Thinking up headlines that will catch your wavering attention to join us on big adventures is hard. But helping me now is ChatGPT+. It can produce hundreds of relevant headlines for me.

I feed in the prompt, it produces the headlines and I use those to prompt other ideas and headlines in my head. Because for this very particular exercise, AI can do that hardest thing of all.

It.

Can.

Think.

For.

Me.

It can’t pull the rabbit out of the hat, because it still knows less about my readers than I do. At least not yet. But give it a few months. And recall just how lightning fast AI has rented space in our brains.

So I urge you to learn more about AI. Don’t let your pessimism or your fear strangle your curiosity.

I also bet the more you learn, the more optimistic you’ll be about its uses.

Some pretty amazing improvements have turned up when one group uses AI and the other doesn’t. Last July, MIT researchers recruited 450 knowledge workers and gave half of them access to ChatGPT. That half finished writing tasks 40% faster than those not using AI, and the quality of their work increased 18%. Last October, the Harvard and Wharton Business Schools partnered with Boston Consulting to study how AI impacted 800 BCG consultants. Again, half were given access to AI, and they completed their consulting tasks 25% faster and at 40% higher quality than those without access.

And take comfort in the fact that AI will never be as crude and clunky as it is right now. Indeed, every time you use AI, you’re using the worst AI you will ever use.

Meanwhile…

1. Jet-lag. Here are five unusual remedies for long flights. Some of them even work. Or try this cure for long waits in the airport: a short story dispenser that prints out free 1 or 5 minute stories on a piece of paper much like an ATM receipt. This pilot program in Vancouver Airport should be in every airport.

Speaking of sea-lag, the world’s largest passenger ship, the Icon of the Seas, launched from Miami this week with a full house of 5,610 holiday-makers and 2,350 crew. Its claims to be environmentally friendly seem ….unsustainable.

2. Dan Wang calls it every year. Dan Wang is the most perceptive China-watcher that China-watchers watch. His annual Long Letter  is “informative, interesting and beautifully-written.”

3. The Seven Laws of Pessimism. Despite objective evidence that 2023 was one of the best years ever, many of us think we’re on the march to doom. It seems there’s a law for that.

On the other hand, according to the Doomsday Clock from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it still is 90 seconds to midnight.

4. The most exciting time for testosterone. It’s safer than previously thought against cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer.

5. Class and caste in Madras. Obviously, different nations and cultures have different cuisines. So do different castes and classes.

6. What kind of Canadian English do you speak? Fifty years ago, the University of Victoria published the first Survey of Canadian English. Now, McGill is updating that survey. You can answer its 85 questions here. How long? 20-25 minutes. I did and clearly I still talk like a Prairie Boy.

7. Slow checkouts for old people. It’s a thing in Holland. Another thing is the huge and rising benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day. True, you don’t need to do 10,000. A mere 2,500 will begin reducing your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. But at 10,500 steps, your risk of dying of that may be 77% lower than it was at 2500 steps.

8. Superlatives, good and bad. Enjoy the world’s worst soundtracks. Or the most recognizable song each year for the past 100 years. Or the world’s thinnest watch. And speaking of worst, here are housing prices vs. income since 1984, and the worst use of a toothpick.

9. Your cheatin’ heart. Dana Farber, one of the world’s most famous cancer centres and part of Harvard, has been hit by a cheating scandal. It seems dozens of papers by four of its top researchers, including the hospital’s CEO, contained deliberately falsified data.

10. Billy Joel’s first new song in 20 years. “Turn the Lights Back On” was released this week. Plus, the Most Promising Dancer award at the Prix de Lausanne was Ana Luisa Negrão. Here’s why. Plus…..UNESCO is known for listing heritage sites. But last year they added The practice of opera singing in Italy to their list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

11. What I’m liking…The CBC and TIFF for endowing an annual $25,000 award honouring Charles Officer, who died in December. It will be given to a writer or director whose body of work reflects Officer’s “values, artistry and vision.” Officer directed the CBC’s award-winning series The Porter.

_________________

KICK-START YOUR SUMMER THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY: BY REALIZING A LONG-HELD FANTASY.

Sail down Italy’s Amalfi Coast with us on the famed three-master, Sea Cloud II.

Bob & Jean

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