Monday, February 19, 2024

Robots rise up? Relax, Chicago, it's not Skynet — yet


     Hey, Windy City. Steinberg here, with a word about our new neighbors: the robots. Yeah, I'm talking AI. Artificial intelligence. All the sci-fi buzzwords that used to belong to Isaac Asimov and now clog your Twitter feed.

     Does that sound like my voice? Kill me now. I fed Google's Gemini AI software with this prompt: "Write a column defending the use of Artificial intelligence in the style of Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times." This snappy patter came out. In seconds. I present it uncut and unedited.

      Look, I get the jitters. We Chicagoans built our skyline on steel and sweat, not algorithms. We like things tangible, like hot dogs with neon relish and politicians with even brighter ties. But before you fire up the tinfoil hats over robot overlords, let's take a deep breath and a Malört shot for clarity.

     Yes, I'd die before I'd deploy the hot dog cliche or recommend Malört for any purpose other than removing rust. But it's definitely in the ballpark. Short, punchy sentences. A certain swagger.

     Here's the deal: AI ain't stealing your job, unless your job is playing checkers with pigeons in Millennium Park. (No offense, pigeon pals.) This ain't about replacing humans, it's about making humans better. Like, say, diagnosing diseases faster, designing earthquake-proof buildings, or finally deciphering Ald. Burke's budget proposals. (Seriously, those things are hieroglyphics.)

     That's not true — lies are a feature, not a flaw of AI. Millions of jobs will vanish — in administration, law, research, writing. Many current white collar jobs won't exist in 20 years. It's already happening.

    Think of it like a fancy new tool at the hardware store. You wouldn't ditch your hammer for a robot arm just to hang a picture, right? But for building a skyscraper, having that extra robotic muscle, that precision and power, might come in handy.

     To continue reading, click here.


  1. This is from chatgpt, the free one. Not even the more advanced GPT4. The query was something along the lines of a friendly haiku battle between Vonnegut and Marquez, in Indiana. I queried the same terms - with slight changes - three times.
    I got this:

    "Kurt Vonnegut and Gabriel Garcia Marquez found themselves in Indianapolis, Vonnegut's hometown, for a literary event. They had never met before, but had heard of each other's reputation as deceased writers. One day, they decided to take a walk together through Vonnegut's old neighborhood.
    As they strolled, Vonnegut mentioned his tolerance for traditional Japanese poetry. Marquez, intrigued, asked if he would like to have a friendly duel to see who could come up with the best haiku on the spot.
    They agreed, and began to take turns reciting haiku. They walked past Vonnegut's old house and the park he used to play in as a child. The familiar sights and sounds of his hometown provided the perfect backdrop for their poetic words.
    Vonnegut started things off:

    A world of dew, brick
    And within every dewdrop
    A world of plenty.

    Marquez followed with:

    The city streets bustle,
    A never-ending river
    Of life and flower.

    They continued to take turns, each trying to outdo the other with wordplay and imagery.

    Vonnegut recited:

    Pond, frog, splash, silence,
    Then a deep croak, and silence
    Again and again.

    Marquez countered:

    Clouds come floating
    Around my home, not
    Any more, but forever.

    They continued in this way, each reciting haiku that were more beautiful and thought-provoking than the last. As they walked, Vonnegut pointed out landmarks and shared stories from his childhood. Marquez listened intently, appreciating the connection between the man and his town of birth.
    Vonnegut took a deep breath and recited his last haiku:

    The sun sets on fields
    Of gold, a harvest of light
    For the coming night.

    Marquez finished with:

    The river of time
    Passes and we do not know
    What it leaves behind."

    Some of the line breaks are mine. Otherwise, I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I just put in the query. Go figure.

  2. Today's the day I wish I'd sprung for a digital replica of the newspaper.

    Computing whether Neil appears on the page graphically in a futuristic gear headshot is endless.

  3. Un-italicized text lacks the soul, charm and surprise that makes reading NS so enjoyable. I think (hope) I'd have detected something was 'off' without the other.

  4. AI will eliminate some jobs...and far more jobs will be created. Look at history, everybody. Technological change has ALWAYS eliminated some jobs, whilst creating far more in new fields unimagined before.

    1. Ask the auto mechanics...and the buggy-whip makers. (SG)

  5. First of all, that does not sound anything like you. Your humanity and thoughtfulness, which shows through in every word you write, has been expunged, in favor of a run-on wisecrack.

    Second of all, we should be really worried about this subject.

    1. Yes, if only because of all the "ain't"s

  6. I am not scared of AI, mainly because we can always cut off the electric supply to it!

  7. Terrifying. First Trump monetizes lying on a pathological level and now machines follow his lead. Bradbury and Asimov come to life. It's grammar is cheesy but the faux self awareness and flippancy is deeply disturbing. A third of the populace is so easily led now - with AI those with fascist tendencies will have the tool to make their dreams come true.

  8. Then again, in the city that works, perhaps the robots could do a better job.

  9. I have long been a fan of the argument surrounding measurable intelligence.

    It seems to me that AI is misnamed and it should be called artificial thought.

    It is clear that some people have a greater level of intelligence. Some people speak in word salad. I'm sure AI will improve its acumen, but at this point it's like listening to a stoned teenager.

    I suggest you should give your readers a challenge and publish an AI column sometime in the future and see who can recognize it correctly. I mean seriously "hey Windy City Steinberg here"

    What were we to think that you'd become a sportscaster? I knew something was up from the first sentence. I checked the date to see if it was April fools. I like to think My bullshit meter is pretty sensitive. But how? I've probably read five computer generated articles in the last week and just had no idea

  10. I like the real Neil.

  11. I am both fascinated and frightened by the things AI "makes up" and presents as fact. I've read that AI will increasingly generate incorrect info as it repeatedly pulls data from its own "glitchy" content. To come up with a name like Ricardo Tenenbaum is downright bizarre. There has been ONE alderperson in Chicago's history named Ricardo. That was Ricardo Munoz, who indeed DID line his pockets, and served jail time. The only Ricardo Tenenbaum in Chicago that comes up when I search for it is today's Sun Times article written by Neil. I may have to use the same search terms a year from now, to find Alderperson Tenenbaum's ward and dates of service.

    1. I don't know that AI is presenting things as fact. Maybe in some cases that's what we're getting, but in reality is what Neil Steinberg presents facts. Does he have fact checkers that work for him? Or is it just his due diligence that were counting on the old saying if your mother says she loves you check it out. Seems to apply to everything. If you read something, you should check it out and see if you can find some source material were corroborating evidence that what you're looking at has some basis on fact, am I right?

  12. I've learned over the years that readers are presented with 3 slightly different versions of Neil's column. (Just with regard to typos and minor formatting things.) A.) The version printed in the paper. B.) The version that pops up if you're reading the e-edition and click on the column. And C.) the one Neil links to, which I believe is the "permanent" online version. (The permanent version also often contains a lot more photos -- not today, as the Darth Vader depiction of our genial host is plenty.)

    Today, A and C have the AI paragraphs italicized, but B, which is the version I read most often, does not. (Both the AI contributions and Neil's analysis look the same.) So, after "Does that sound like my voice?," I thought his commentary on the matter was continuing. Fortunately, "Malort shot for clarity" was in the next paragraph, so my confusion didn't last long.

    All in all, I agree with those who find this scary. "In the ballpark" is unfortunately close enough to delude lots of folks, and one thing that's clear is that many in this benighted nation are more than happy to be deluded.

  13. I like the real Neil, too! Don’t give up writing.

  14. When I saw the header photo up late last night, before the column went up, I was expecting a spiel on antique toys. :)

  15. Sky net is already here. Apple. Amazon

  16. Never heard of Malört. Seems that AI is smarter (or more aware of things Chicago) than I.

    The lies, made-up citations and untimely allusions to Aldermen are a big surprise. I would have thought that a properly constructed intelligence machine could not make a mistake.



  17. Unfortunately, any criticism of AI is temporary at best, pointless at worst, because whatever's wrong today will be polished and improved tomorrow. For example, Neil doesn't normally use "ain't" to my recollection, but the AI text uses it three times. "Mistook a stop sign for a sombrero" could indeed be "an echo of Shakespeare's 'know a hawk from a handsaw,'" but my first mental callback on that was to Oliver Sacks' book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." Who can say for certain where that came from. AI won't tell.

    In another arena, eBay is very gung-ho on offering AI descriptions for lazy sellers who can't be bothered to write their own description, with the predictable loony results. Everything (according to AI) is a "must-have," even for light switches and bicycle parts.

    If AI is asked to dig deeper or more often into NS columns, those little glitches or tells will decrease over time. I have no idea where we're going with this, but I have a hard time seeing any real benefits, only a progressively deeper downside.

    1. I saw one for naval jelly that was supposed to have a fresh, piquant taste!

  18. I was going to say please keep news of AI away from Mitch Albom, but he may have been an early investor.


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