The right way to think about technology like AI

Yesterday we posed the question, which would you rather carry, 500 lbs or 1,000 lbs. And you didn’t suddenly get the ability to carry either.

Friend of the list Rod Aparicio responded:

It depends. Is it me and my physical strength? Or just carrying it somehow from point A to point B? :) Maybe i use a car —or something with wheels to carry it. :)

I’m a sucker for an “it depends” answer, and this one took my question in a different direction than I was originally thinking. It’s worth the segue.

Rod’s answer hits on the right way to think about technology—as an enhancement to human capability.

Think of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. It had limited capability without him, but the real power of Iron Man was multiplying what Tony was capable of doing. Iron Man didn’t make Tony irrelevant—it made him more relevant.

The history of programming languages has something to say as well. In the early* days, people literally wrote chip instructions using 1s and 0s. Add two numbers together would have taken several lines of low-level code.

As higher-level programming languages came around, those several lines got replaced with something as simple as c = a + b.

Programmers feared and bean counters rejoiced at the possibility that needing humans to write software would soon be a thing of the past.

Yet, we’re still here. We’re just able to handle larger problems now that we don’t have to think of all the minutiae.

I don’t precisely know what that symbiotic use of technology like ChatGPT is going to be yet. I’m not willing to be one of those bros selling you a $45 guide on “The Best ChatGPT Prompts”. (I am willing to sell you much higher valued services on the things that I understand like building effective software development systems that ship regularly and with high quality while also giving you a happy work force, though, ha).

But I do know that to figure out what they are, the knee-jerk fear reaction won’t help. ChatGPT is kind of dumb. It’s like that person you work with who can say all the words but doesn’t understand what they mean.

ChatGPT still needs capable people of understanding to use it correctly.

Just like forklifts do, to bring it back to the direction Rod took the response.x

* My use of “early” may cause chuckles depending on your age. Let’s say post-ENIAC.

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