Text Singularity? Oh, the Humanity!

Luddites smashing a loom circa 1812. Public domain.
Luddites smashing a loom circa 1812. Public domain.

“By the end of this year,” Michael Munger writes at Reason, “GPT4 chatbots will be able to produce, in less time than it takes to read this sentence, millions of texts on all the topics that you can think of, as well as those no one has ever thought of.”

Which, coupled with a couple of “conceptually simple” steps, leads to a “text singularity” in which writing as a human activity essentially stops. Artificial intelligences automagically write … well, all the things. People are reduced to mere readers.

As a working writer, I can’t help but shudder for the same reasons that inspired Ned Ludd and his disciples to rebellion against early factory automation in the 19th century. If machines can do what I do — better, faster, and cheaper — I guess I’m out of  the writing racket.

On the other hand, as a working writer, I’ve pointed out numerous times that automation is, generally speaking, a good thing.

Automation results in products that are more available, less costly, and often of higher quality.

And since that results in more demand for such products, it often creates more jobs than it eliminates — more people to bring material to the machine, more people to haul away and sell the machine’s output. In fact, England employed far more textile workers after the  automation of weaving than before, putting the lie to Luddism’s complaints.

Maybe I can get a job dusting cooling fins or replacing defective cables at the Big Writing Machine’s server farm.

Or maybe I won’t have to.

Much as it grinds my Austrian economics devotee gears to think so, it could be that the impending “text singularity” and similar developments are bellwethers leading us toward the post-scarcity of Aaron Bastani’s “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” — an age in which few if any humans really need to “work” because automation makes EVERYTHING abundant and free or nearly so.

That sounds like the better side of the utopian science fiction milieus I immersed myself in as a young reader. Whether we can avoid the worse sides — which usually involve political schemes to subjugate us all — is a different question.

It also sounds unlikely, but perhaps my long-held prejudice toward the value of human creativity, ingenuity, and motivation as the way toward a better future are skewing my viewpoint.

Either way, history runs forward, not backward. And the future promises, if nothing else, constant fascination.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.