For the past two months, an artificial intelligence system named "chatGPT" has been in the news for its ability to generate plausible written answers, including essays, on a very wide variety of questions. These answers were not always correct, but they were correct often enough to worry people whose jobs depend on their ability to write. As might be expected, this generated special concern among teachers at both the secondary and college levels, frightened by the prospect of their students being able to "cheat" by passing off computer-generated answers to exam questions and term paper assignments as their own.
Now comes word that answers generated by this technology achieved passing grades in courses at a business school and a law school. Again, not all the answers were correct, but they were "good enough" to get a C or even B grade. And with both the underlying computer technology continually improving and the sets of text used to train these systems expanding, we can expect to see those grades moving up into the A range in many fields.
Even though this system still makes too many "stupid mistakes" to be relied upon in real business situations, that too is likely to change. If the same "machine learning" approach being used to produce "matching" text answers can be applied to recognizing types of questions where more traditional approaches give better answers, the resulting system could become much more powerful and reliable. If it were able to identify when methods based on simple algorithms, mathematical models, or large structured databases should be applied, it's not hard to imagine such a hybrid system being able to respond as well as or better than people who are currently considered "experts" in many fields.
As with any new disruptive technology, it's also not hard to imagine calls for government action, especially in the area of education but perhaps also in response to a perception of "jobs being lost". And as with past technological developments, government intervention would be a mistake. It would also be pointless.
What a technological revolution like this really means is that some of the skills we, as a society, have in the past considered of high value, no longer are especially valuable – either in the job market for adults or in preparing young people for the adult world. Like the brute-force jobs of centuries past (like digging ditches), the "skilled labor" of the past century (like assembling circuit boards), and even many of the "knowledge worker" tasks that have been automated in the past 20 years, the skill of "writing" is no longer something that has meaning by itself, either as a key to success in the job market or as a measure of being "educated".
That doesn't necessarily mean that writing is something that humans will no longer ever do – there will likely still be jobs which involve writing (with computer assistance or otherwise) along with some other skill. There may still be some kinds of written works recognized as "art" which only a few especially talented people can produce. And there may be some people who simply take up "writing without a computer" as a hobby. But as a general-purpose skill, by itself, at the level that most people in business or academia have relied upon up until now to get by, it's going to drop in value sooner than many people can imagine.
But that's OK. Jobs will change, but the market is still the best way to manage that kind of change. Education will change, but a free market of competing schools and other systems for young people to learn will become even more important as society adapts to this development.
The last thing we need is additional government regulation or "planning", either in the job market or education. And we especially don't need any further attempts to prop up the taxpayer-funded and politically-managed school establishment that was already failing to adapt to earlier technological developments!
Joe Dehn is a Libertarian Party activist who lives in Sunnyvale. He has run for Congress several times, and is currently serving as chair of the county LP organization.
Commentary posts are the opinions of individual authors, and do not necessarily represent a formal position of the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County unless so noted.