Community Editorials Letters to the Editor

Guest editorial: Artificial intelligence and the end of freedom of thought

Posted on March 23rd, 2023 By: Justin Teerlinck

I am writing regarding the March 16, 2023 article, “Peninsula School District embracing potential of ChatGPT.”

Artificial intelligence is deadly poison, not a shiny new toy for kids to play with.

Freedom of thought is the birthright of all human beings. Furthermore, it is a requirement for all human endeavors that demand creativity, innovation, and the ability to make informed personal choices. Without freedom of thought and the autonomy engendered by it, we cease to exist as unique individuals.

But freedom of thought is precarious and impossible without strong minds, steeped in sense experience, honed through language acquisition, literacy, and diverse social interactions. Strong minds are needed in order to create meaning and purpose, the basis of a fulfilled human life.

The human race has spent the past twenty years farming out our cognitive functions to machines. Thus, most people can no longer navigate using a map, spell or write using correct grammar, or remember their spouses’ phone number. People now claim to be writers and artists on the basis on writing simple text prompts or commands which are then fulfilled by a computer.

The virtual world we have created is a dangerous (if at times alluring) fantasy that prevents us from attending to our physical world. It alienates us from each other; its funhouse mirrors exaggerate our differences, minimize our similarities, and erode our ability to understand ourselves and each other. It insulates us from both the joys and the sorrows of the real world, leaving us intellectually weak and spiritually bereft.

But there is an even greater ill being wrought by artificial intelligence. What will be left to us after computers replace teachers, doctors, lawyers, nursing home workers? Will life-like versions of us also eventually replace pets, children, friends, significant others? Will they replace all physical and most mental labor? What happens when computers can out-think, out-draw, out-write the best artists and thinkers alive? What happens when computers are perceived as more empathetic and caring than your best friend or the best therapist you ever met?

It’s easy to forget about the small things that give our lives meaning and purpose. If we allow AI to usurp and replace everything that makes us human—including our relationships with each other—what purpose will humanity serve? Our species will cease growing and changing. Humanity will become a superfluous artifact of a primitive era.

And yet, here we are, gleefully frittering away everything it means to be human as fast as we can without a care in the world. I ask the questions above because I do not see others doing so—except to dismiss this very real existential threat with a dismissive wave. Our species appears determined to conduct this experiment on ourselves without a hint of oversight or thoughtful regard for the dangers at hand.

The Bill Gateses and Elon Musks of the world are more than happy to egg us on to race forward in a mad rush toward oblivion. Our leading lights have lost their way. We must not follow them like lemmings off a cliff. A sage once said, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Our better angels remind us that the most valuable resource we have, our most precious gift—is each other. We cannot afford squander our gifts or enchain ourselves to despotic idiots. We cannot afford the foolish mistake of giving away what beautiful evolution took millennia to create: the human mind and spirit. It may not be perfect, but without it (and what it bestows) we will no longer be human.

Justin Teerlinck

Gig Harbor