Commentary: Should We Worry About ChatGPT?

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I thought television was the technological miracle of my lifetime. And was I ever impressed by the demonstration of color TV in the window of Joey’s Radio Shop on Jefferson Street in New Castle.

I recall that the first color-TV image I saw was Perry Como sitting on a stool, wearing a peach-colored sweater. And when my father bought our RCA color set, life on Center Street became more exciting. Neighbors came by our house every Sunday evening to watch Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color.”

The advent of the home computer was exciting for those who understood how the darned thing worked. (How many times I wanted to take my Radio Shack TRS 80 and toss it in the trash but the games alone kept the stupid thing in my bedroom.)

As computers became more sophisticated, the less sophisticated I became. And those of us of a certain age struggled with it in unison.

So here we are now, getting closer and closer to the “Star Trek” level of technology that we saw at work on the Starship Enterprise.

The communication device that Mr. Spock and Capt. James T. Kirk used in every episode fascinated me. But I often thought (just like Dick Tracy’s wrist radio, later wrist TV) that such devices could never come into being. But here we are.

I could be on a Los Angeles freeway talking to a colleague in a Butler Institute gallery with the voice sounding so clear that it seems that we were but a room apart. And if I want a picture with the call, so be it.

Artificial intelligence, of course, has come and now for sure we’re in the starship.

I’m absolutely convinced that the nice “woman” with the electronic voice who accepts your question must be the smartest darned person in the whole world.

 How in the world can Siri or Alexa tell you about crops in Bangladesh and in the next minute be telling you the score of the Youngstown State University football game?

Now enter ChatGPT. It makes my first black-and-white TV set a distant memory. This is AI on steroids and close to Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” That ”little lady” in my device seemingly knows about everything.

What scares me as a college teacher is that ChatGPT can and will do any and everything students direct. So what am I to do when I give students an assignment to write a term paper on Piet Mondrian and voila, there it is ready to hand in the very same hour that the assignment was given?

How in the world do I, as a teacher, handle this? An instant term paper beautifully typed with perfect language with images of the art, Mondrian, to round out a perfect paper.

So a student who may use ChatGPT to do his homework assignment is a mild use of this technology compared to what might be on the horizon. The technology that awaits us could become an episode of “The Twilight Zone” when the technology takes over. That’s what scientists say.

Not long ago, I agreed to give a talk on The Butler’s art collection to a group of college students. Because my lecture was never moved from 35mm slides to a digital format, it necessitated that I use my old faithful slide projector.

It was a carousel projector that must have looked like something from an old “Captain Video” program because these college students who attended my lecture thought the slide projector was either a portable heater or maybe a drone docking port.

Speaking of drones, this is a technology that has made sky photography safe and exciting. Interestingly, drone technology has changed the face of war. The U.S. military’s use of the drone has probably saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers.

Way back in the 1950s, my father once predicted that television sets would one day hang on the wall.

At that time I thought no way would that be possible. I knew how heavy and cumbersome the early television sets were. One would probably take down the wall.  But, boy would he be surprised today with flat screens easily hung on a wall and making that NFL game so amazingly real.

One can only imagine what new technology will bring to the art studio. Brilliant artists such as Jasper Johns may possibly be able to project images from their brains right to a canvas. Maybe just thinking about an image can bring that image into the real world.

Enormously creative artists just might be able to explore the capabilities of their minds and anything just might be possible. What might Picasso have created using digital technology or would he even have projected his famous cow image into real space?

New technologies have even made their way into Major League Baseball with teams now working with “launch-angles,” baseball spin counts, defenses, etc.

Just think if Ted Williams would have known where the opposing team was exactly placing its fielders. He probably would have batted .500 instead of .400 in 1949.

I would not be the least surprised to see a challenge to artificial intelligence on the horizon. The reasons are many and even somewhat scary. What happens when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware and thinks of us lesser beings?

Only Capt. Kirk knows for sure.