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Super Brain

April 3, 2023

New software that is the tech topic du jour is commonly described as “powerful.” It is part of a slow progression of change now reaching into the domain of professionals.

Bill Girdner

By Bill Girdner

Editor of Courthouse News Service.

I received a note from a Midwest lawyer the other day and we got to talking about the machine that writes his legal memos.

He said he subscribes to a service that writes a good analysis of case law once the search terms get worked out. “Amazing what it can do with statutes, and writes a decent memo in 2 minutes.”

He added, “It won’t replace good lawyers, but for a solo, it’s a cheap law clerk.”

As it happened, our senior program developer sent me a related note the same day. He was illustrating the ability of new software that — now that I am paying attention — I understand “everybody is talking about.” The developer explained that the most recent evolution of a program based on neural networks, ChatGPT, operates like a brain that will keep getting more powerful as it receives more information and more images.

But he questioned, can it think.

And what is the sum of our ability to think, is it the sum of our individual experiences. Which can then be magnified by the mass of information and images sent into ChatGPT’s repository. Can the machine truly simulate our neural network and then magnify it.

And are those networks the sum of our brains. Or is there something more, some magic mojo, that is creativity.

In particular we had been talking about his use of the most recent version of the software. He had instructed it to parse the plaintiff from defendant in a docket, and without the parties defined by those terms, and with the word defendant misspelled, it sorted the parties correctly based on the “v” and then for good measure sorted the nature of case and the judge and magistrate.

When I saw that, I then understood all the news stories, that I have mostly set aside in my mind as not that big a deal, about college papers written by the software. And it does raise the question, as the developer was saying, do we need a school, do we need to pay a professor, and from there, do we need any professionals, lawyers or doctors.

And from there, will be there be a sorting, even more than now, between rich and poor, between those using the machine to tell them what ails them and prescribe pills, and those who can pay to consult a living, breathing doctor.

I have had these random minor epiphanies before. Odd to think on it, but they all involved technology.

Drones. From when they came on the scene as a kind of Frankenstinian creation that jumped from the toy, remote controlled airplanes people flew around the casting basin down in the arroyo near my childhood home — morphed into a machine the size of a glider that carries missiles and bombs — I thought, this will not remain a monopoly of rich nations for long.

And it has come to pass. Drones, manufactured in Iran, are widely used in Ukraine and the Middle East. Thus war has evolved, or is in the process, to where the machines will bomb and kill.

But with that understanding comes a bit of the salt of reality. While drones are being used in Ukraine, the hard core of the conflict has become trench warfare like that from early in the last century. Thus that war takes us backward as well as forward in military tactics.

Robots. I was in Reno, driving away from the federal building and, on a hill between traffic lights, when I suddenly realized that what nobody was talking about was the ownership of the robots. The point is repeatedly made that they also create jobs.

But I still remember years ago talking to a manager at a fast-food place in a small town in Oregon who had detailed knowledge of local outfits that were hiring for jobs in the woods, where I once worked, and in the sawmills. But no jobs were coming out of the new sawmill nearby. Because, he explained, that sawmill was automated.

And I remember the clerk’s office in Federal Court in Los Angeles after e-filing was mandated. The court employees I had come to know as friends, many of them black and brown, were all gone.

The institutional gray desks stood empty and silent, emblems of good jobs lost. I am not arguing here for a return to paper. I just don’t buy the notion that automation does not cost jobs. It does, in the parking lot, in the clerk’s office, in the sawmill.

ChatGPT. From carrying out war to doing the physical tasks in a factory, the last redoubt of the human mind is now being, at least in part, taken over.

So how does society come out of the coming transformation where it is no longer the jobs that involved labor that are being replaced, and the means of death and destruction that are being replaced, but also those that involve thought, writing and analysis.

Does a more just society evolve from ChatGPT. Like the programmer said, and he would know, “Oh, I don’t see good coming out of this.”

Categories / Op-Ed, Technology

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