It’s true I’ve been critical of human beings becoming overly-dependent on artificial intelligence (AI). Although there’s no question it can help improve our lives in certain ways, it can also be used to seduce people into giving up too much personal power. In addition: it makes it easy to dismiss such things as the ethical concerns which determine how many of us do or don’t experience our collective human condition.
Where and when to draw lines of AI propriety has to be mindfully considered for many reasons. For example: How comfortable should anyone be entrusting their health to a “doctor” who relied on AI to pass final med school exams? How much can anyone presenting themselves as an “expert” in any field be considered a professional if they lack the ability to discern for themselves the accuracy, or least the plausibility, of automated information?
My Human Bias and ChatGPT
To challenge any biases of my own concerning what some media commentators are calling the “AI revolution,” I allowed myself to be guided through a test run of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. With the help of a more knowledgeable human associate, I asked what kind of insights it could offer regarding a current GoFundMe Music Heritage Project. I anticipated comical results similar to ones comedians had been quoting to draw big laughs. It didn’t exactly turn out that way. A few of the results follow below and others will be in the article titled Artificial Intelligence and Authentic Human Concerns scheduled for posting on LinkedIn.
Since producing a human-written book on the life and times of radio programmer Theron “Ike” Carter is one primary goal of the Music Heritage Project, I wondered about its possible impact outside Carter’s hometown of Savannah, Georgia (USA). ChatGPT suggested this possibility:
“…The book could provide a model for documenting and preserving cultural heritage in other communities, serving as an example of how local residents and cultural leaders can work together to celebrate and preserve their shared history and identity. This could have broader educational benefits, as it could inspire other communities to undertake similar projects and could contribute to a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of American cultural heritage.”
In all honesty, I had considered possible educational applications but not the noted “broader educational benefits.” My human conclusions had come from video-recording weekly interviews with Mr. Carter for more than a year. The chatbot had determined its AI analyses by drawing on digital resources beyond my instinctive reach. My feelings might have been mixed but how could I deny, at least in this case, the validity of the results?
What, then, about the GoFundMe Campaign?
I had scheduled the GoFundMe Music Heritage campaign to run from Jazz Appreciation Month until the end of African-American Music Month because of Ike Carter’s work in the industry. All that made good human sense. It took the enthusiastic counsel of someone who knows much more about AI than me to ask the chatbot what reasons potential donors might have to feel good about supporting the campaign? This the first part of the answer:
“…Contributing to the GoFundMe campaign could provide a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction for donors, as they contribute to the preservation and celebration of an important cultural legacy. This could be particularly meaningful for donors who have a personal connection to Savannah or who have an interest in music or cultural heritage more broadly.”
And here is the second part of the answer:
“By contributing to the project, donors would become part of a community of individuals committed to celebrating and preserving Savannah's rich musical heritage, and would have the satisfaction of knowing that they played a role in creating a valuable cultural resource.”
Did smiling while reading the above response mean I was allowing myself to be seduced by AI-powered reasoning? It could be interpreted that way. Except I had already immersed myself in the organic process of collecting, sorting, and structuring relevant creative material in my own human way. This was a case where it might be said I had accepted a limited partnership with AI to construct the kind of dialogue someone might have had with a Shark Tank expert.
Humanity at a Crossroads
There is no doubt situations will arise (and already have arisen) where AI will provide life-saving assistance. Does that mean we should relinquish to it all the essential components of what makes us human? Including not caring about the livelihoods it threatens to erase en masse? Or reducing our own capacity for analytical thinking? I’m inclined to say no.
So what now? As with any historic situation placing humanity at a crossroads of hopefulness and doubt, we first weigh the risks before us. Then we proceed, or step firmly on the brakes, with caution. [Also check out: Artificial Intelligence and Authentic Human Concerns]
Co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Author of These Black and Blue Red Zone Days
Enjoy More Conversations with the World
This essay was first published in 2015 to commemorate the 95th anniversary of McKay’s literary milestone and in remembrance of the extraordinary Red Summer of 1919. It is now part of an ongoing series of re-posts intended to encourage reflections on Americans’ collective pursuit of racial equality and inspire actions most likely to help achieve it with dignity and intelligence.
As it stands at this moment: One hundred and two years after the initial publication of Harlem Renaissance author Claude McKay’s masterful poem, “If We Must Die,” America finds itself “reckoning” with the consequences of racial inequality allowed to fester for centuries. It doesn’t take a PhD in antiracism to understand how the highly-publicized violent deaths of African Americans over the past 10 years, and the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to COVID-19 from 2020-2021, dramatically mirror the kinds of systemic racism which prompted McKay to pen his classic lines.
Particularly interesting in 2021, however, is how African Americans’ collective refusal to “die” without fighting back in a variety of ways, has motivated populations in different countries around the world to do the same. Ironically, the tensions driving unrest among different populations “of color” on the global front often have more to do with economic inequalities and charges of political corruption than racial factors. Such, apparently, has been the case recently in South Africa, Haiti, Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Russia. Nevertheless, the motivation behind their will to “fight back” has often been linked via social media and other channels to the ongoing struggles of African Americans to refine practices of democracy in their homeland.
Idea of Post-Racialism a Dream Deferred
There were many good reasons to believe America had entered––or at least was about to enter––a golden era of post-racialism following the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Among them was the election of the country’s first African-American president itself, an increasingly diverse American population, and a sociopolitical landscape made more democratic (in appearance at least) by the various influences of technological innovation.
Unfortunately, none of those good noble reasons were able to withstand the onslaught of reality as the number of hate groups in the country began to increase almost immediately, even while the Black prison population and Black unemployment rates continued to do the same. In a word, the country was nowhere near “there” yet.
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.