Monday July 15, 2024

AI for everyone

By I Hussain
February 07, 2023

If you aren’t familiar with what ChatGPT can do, then you’re going to be blindsided by the impending changes that are going to upend our society and economy. The developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that are now going mainstream are simply stunning in their impact. But they also raise questions about how societies will cope with their results.

ChatGPT is a computer program that uses AI to respond to short prompts and questions by users and answers in a conversational manner. It has been trained on a huge data set of text through the use of advanced math algorithms and machine learning techniques. In addition to responding to questions and prompts, ChatGPT can generate text on its own. (In the terminology of AI researchers, chatbots like ChatGPT are called Large Language Models (LLMs).

My experience with the free-to-use software ChatGPT, an LLM developed by Open AI, a company based in San Francisco, California, gives a vivid illustration of how rich and enabling AI technology is and how it will bring about seismic shifts in vast swathes of the economy including education, journalism, finance, and law -- a far from exhaustive list.

Among the queries I put to ChatGPT was a question that is foremost on many Pakistanis’ minds. How could Pakistan resolve its foreign debt crisis? The answer I got:

“There are several steps that Pakistan can take to address its debt crisis:

“1. Implementing fiscal consolidation measures, such as cutting government spending and increasing revenue through tax reform.

“2. Restructuring its debt, which may involve rescheduling or extending the maturity of its loans.

“3. Securing financial assistance from international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank.

“4. Encouraging economic growth through structural reforms, such as reducing bureaucratic barriers to investment and implementing policies to promote exports and foreign investment.

“5. Addressing structural issues, such as energy crisis and other bottlenecks that are hindering economic growth.

“It’s worth noting that these steps are not mutually exclusive, and a comprehensive approach that addresses multiple factors is likely to be the most effective in resolving Pakistan’s debt crisis”.

A fairly complete and impressive response by ChatGPT (one of many similar answers since one can regenerate answers by posing the same question over and over) that took less than a minute.

I also wanted to probe a little deeper to check for its ‘reasoning’ skills. So I asked ChatGPT to sequence the proposed economic reforms in terms of urgent, short term, medium term, and long term categories.

The urgent measures suggested by ChatGPT are to cut government spending and to increase revenue through tax reform; it also stresses the urgency of initiating dialogue with the IMF. The short-term measures recommended are debt restructuring by renegotiating the payment terms and tackling the energy crisis. Medium-term policies suggested are to promote exports and foreign direct investment as well as to institute a comprehensive reform of the tax system to result in greater tax compliance and enhanced revenues. Long-term policies suggested are that Pakistan design a “comprehensive strategy for sustainable growth and development” and address “structural issues such as governance, corruption, human capital, and institutions”. This sequencing is not unlike what most economists have been proposing.

ChatGPT’s knowledge base and expert knowledge is bound to increase over time as the data set it is trained on expands. Thus, professionals in all fields should be concerned about the impact of AI on their jobs. To wit, ChatGPT can write poetry and short stories, provide a critical appreciation of Shakespeare’s sonnets, explain dark matter, write a sales pitch for a new product, etc.

ChatGPT can also draft legal contracts, write sections of code in twelve programming languages, and make even average journalists look very good by generating news summaries, writing headings for stories, and by transforming complex text about developments in difficult to understand subjects like science and technology in easy-to-understand language. This will be both a boon and a bane for people in these professions.

A boon because chatbots will enhance the productivity manifold for the top performers but a bane because employees considered average or below average will be likely shown the door. Keep in mind also that, unlike humans, ChatGPT does not get tired, fall sick, or ask for a raise.

There may also be positives for freelancers from developing countries due to greater outsourcing by companies since checking and correcting grammatical and spelling flaws in written English text and in software coding is a breeze with ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is not without its flaws, however. The data and texts it has learnt from pertain to periods until 2021. Hence some of the answers to queries can be dated. Further these can also be incorrect, so the user has to be careful about indiscriminately using its answers without verification.

For instance, in an answer about the level of corruption in Pakistan it cited Transparency International’s (TI) data from 2020 and placed Pakistan at 116 among the 180 countries ranked from least to most corrupt. This is incorrect; Pakistan was placed at 124 out of 180 countries in 2020. Further, Pakistan’s ranking slipped by 16 places in 2021 but this was not reflected in ChatGPT’s answer as its information base did not include publications after 2021.

While a chatbot can be a boon for educators, it can also be a handy cheating tool for students -- especially in writing essays. Unless teachers know the capabilities and strengths of each of their students, they are unlikely to distinguish between ChatGPT generated text and the students’ own work. (According to a recent article in ‘Scientific American’, even professional scientists have been fooled into accepting abstracts of medical research written by ChatGPT as being authored by humans and therefore worthy of publication.)

One unnerving implication for educators is that the era of home assignments at high school or university is unlikely to continue in its present form since students could easily prepare answers generated by chatbots. Educators will have to rethink their methods of student assessment and know the capabilities of each of their students through, say, some baseline evaluation. More emphasis will have to be placed on in-class supervised written tests and/or on oral exams.

As for the universities in this country, there is a perfect storm brewing. Academic tenure in Pakistan is granted on the basis of a certain number of publications regardless of their quality or impact. However, the science publication ‘Nature’ reports that there are hundreds of advertisements on social media platforms and other websites offering to sell authorship in research papers for publication in reputable journals. The more prestigious the publication, the greater the price for the authorship slot. Couple this with ChatGPT’s ability to produce a plausible research article on any topic and you get a veritable army of academics with fake credentials rising to top teaching and research positions in Pakistan’s universities to the ultimate detriment of the entire system of higher education.

As a means of understanding human nature ChatGPT also offers intriguing possibilities. I therefore asked it a somewhat philosophical question: “Can money buy love?” ChatGPT answered in the negative by saying that love is an emotion and emotions cannot be bought or sold. Which confirms for me that the Beatles, an English rock band phenomenon from the 1960s, were right all along when they sang ‘money can’t buy me love” in their hit single from that era.

The writer is a group director at the Jang Group. He can be reached at: