Why AI?

Today I received a most kind, unsolicited offer on the internet to “amplify my potential” with, or by, ChatGPT. At my age, however, I think it’s a little late in the day to “amplify my potential”: I have reached, or failed to reach, whatever little potential I ever had.

The kind offer went on to say:

We’ve got you covered with the latest trends and updates in the world of AI.

I am not entirely sure that I want to be “covered” with the latest trends in the world of AI. Is it not precisely one of the worrying things about AI that you don’t have much choice in the matter of its coverage and powers of surveillance? Perhaps I am something of a linguistic dinosaur, but the expression “I’ve got you covered” conjures up a gunman who is either going to shoot you or prevent others from doing so, depending on the circumstances; but none of the circumstances seems very comfortable to be in. Besides, “cornered” seems a better word here than “covered,” though no doubt ChatGPT will correct me on that.

What will ChatGPT do for me, that is to say once my potential has been amplified? Among other things, it will “revolutionize my interior design process.”

But what is my interior design process? I find, as I search my inner dinosaur, that these words convey almost nothing to me. It is true that my house needs redecorating, and I am sure could be furnished better and more tastefully, but I wouldn’t call my very intermittent and fleeting thoughts about these matters “an interior design process.”

Surely, then, the interior design process must be something else, perhaps a form of psychotherapy. But it is too late for that also; by now, my interior design process, whatever it may be, is as set in stone as Michelangelo’s Pietà. One of the great compensations of growing old is that one doesn’t have to think any longer of improving oneself, because it isn’t possible, and what is impossible cannot be obligatory or even desirable.

With the AI that has got me covered, I will be able to “create presentations effortlessly”—which immediately put me in mind of Dr Johnson’s dictum that what is written without pain is rarely read with pleasure. But is the effortless life desirable? It is certainly attractive. Who wants to do the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking? AI offers to do what domestic servants once did for the middle and upper classes; which, incidentally, is one of the reasons, or at least one of the preconditions, for the phenomenal productivity of some of our forebears. Mozart never went to a supermarket, or even parked a car at one. Perhaps AI will render obsolete the aperçu of the economist who said that one servant is worth a household full of appliances.

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