The AI Recession
Will AI tools like chatGPT exacerbate the looming recession?
November 30th, 2022, is likely to be remembered for a long time, at least in the annals of technology history. On that day, the team at OpenAI.com launched chatGPT.
For those of you who missed this event, chatGPT is a conversational artificial intelligence. It might be easiest to describe chatGPT in its own words. When asked, "what are you": the system responds with:
"I am an artificial intelligence assistant trained by OpenAI. I am not a real person, but rather a computer program designed to answer questions and provide information to users. My primary function is to assist users by answering their questions and providing helpful information. I am able to understand and respond to a wide range of questions and requests on a variety of topics, and I can provide information, clarify concepts, and offer guidance to help users find the information they need. I do not have personal feelings or emotions, and my responses are based on my programming and the information I have been trained on. I am here to help, so please feel free to ask me any questions you have."
This bio is the most understated ever! chatGPT is quite stunning. If you haven't had a chance to try it yourself, go to https://chat.openai.com and give it a whirl. The system can do a wide variety of tasks:
It can write code given a simple prompt. For example, when asked to write code to use AI to analyze some text, here's what it produced:
The beneficial aspect of this answer is the explanation of how the code works. That can save a programmer many hours of research and study.
Even more impressive, chatGPT can analyze code. I was stuck on a bug for a while in my own coding. I asked chatGPT to debug it--it correctly figured it out, finding not one, but two bugs! It also offered the correct explanation for why the code was not working.
It can write marketing copy and business plans. For example, when asked to write an advertisement for this newsletter, it generates:
It can give you recipes for a wide variety of foods. My friend's twelve-year-old son used it to learn how to make homemade bubble gum for his new hobby!
Another company I know of has used it to create a marketing jingle for their restaurant. It was rather catchy!
Of course, there are far more advanced in AI than just chatGPT! Tesla's full self-driving beta is quite impressive. GitHub CoPilot can help programmers write code in the context of their code editor. More valuably, the generated code from CoPilot is written in the context of the program (so variable names and forth are correctly used).
From that perspective, chatGPT is just another incremental step forward in a long history of human technological progress.
AI vs the Office Worker
What I find striking is that chatGPT is the first tool that can significantly replace humans for many business tasks. The examples above are typical of the work done by junior engineers, junior marketing professionals, and so forth. In the past, many experts assumed that AI would largely impact more traditional blue-collar labor--simpler, more repetitive tasks that conceptually a computer could master more easily. These experts thought that tasks involving creativity and specialized skill (like computer programming) were beyond the near-term horizon for AI.
Will these professionals be replaced entirely by AI? Not likely. One simple reason: AI can be wrong! The more complex the creative task, the more the AI can have errors. chatGPT, for example, will happily make up answers based on incorrect or made-up information. I've seen this often when asking it to write code for more esoteric scenarios; it will invent APIs that do not exist! Thus, at least for current usage, there needs to be some human oversight.
These errors and the need for human oversight will create a complex sociological dynamic. In any field of endeavor, there are beginners, the average practitioner, and