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We live in a wonderful and frightening future

I hate to admit it, but I was a bit envious earlier this week.

There in Monday’s newspaper was the most sought-after interview of a famous newsmaker that others only dream of interviewing, and the staff of The Alpena News had secured it.

The interview in Monday’s newspaper was with ChatGTP, a chatbot developed by engineers with Open AI. The software program utilizes artificial intelligence algorithms to research, write, and communicate with humans on a level most people could identify with. And, if we truly were being honest, the chatbot communicates better than many people we know.

Think of it as the baby between R2-D2 and Mark Twain.

The newspaper staff asked ChatGTP a series of questions about Alpena and Northeast Michigan. Not only did it do a good job of providing intelligent and accurate answers, it also provided some insight and predictions based on information it gathered from the internet.

For instance, when asked about Alpena’s future, ChatGTP replied, “As an AI language model, I can’t predict the future or offer subjective opinions. However, based on the available data and trends, it appears that Alpena has taken steps to promote economic development and improve the quality of life for residents.”

It then went on to support that statement by pointing to specific projects such as infrastructure improvements, promoting tourism, and expanding the airport.

Are you impressed?

Or are you, like me, a bit frightened?

Alpena’s robotics students over the past several weeks have been participating in competitions where they have fared quite well. The students must be able to creatively problem-solve issues, work together to engineer and construct a robot that will overcome an obstacle, communicate clearly between members and the public, and market their product to the public for continued financial support in a quest to place high in competition with other schools.

It is a great program, and Alpena has a rich history associated with it.

But can you imagine if an artificial intelligence robot aided in the effort? I can hear the cries of “foul” already.

Last year, my youngest son shared information about ChatGTP with family members. As a professor, he was concerned with students making use of it to do research papers or to assist them in homework. As a demonstration of its capability, he utilized it and another artificial intelligence program to write and illustrate a children’s book for his two daughters.

I’m glad The Alpena News staff had the opportunity to share knowledge about ChatGTP with you this week and give you something to ponder about its potential.

So long as it is used for good, I suppose its potential is exciting.

But should it be used in ways it never was intended to be, I fear its potential is disturbing. I’m not alone. Others have called for further study on the new chatbot before making it commonplace in the marketplace.

And we’ve seen this story before in what seemed like other exciting new technology that mankind quickly corrupted and ruined.

As a boy who grew up with the Dick Tracy wristwatch, it amazes me to see what once I only could have dreamed of becoming reality.

Dreams are one thing, though.

We just need to ensure they don’t become nightmares.

Bill Speer recently retired as the publisher and editor of The News. He can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com.

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