I Deleted my ChatGPT App
My conscience bid me simply delete my ChatGPT app. Not terribly longer, I found out why.
Introduction to this work
This work looks about how making things easier to use can have a downside. We can offload skills that it is really not in our best interest to offload. This work opens with a famous passage of Plato’s about why a then-new technology might not be such as unmixed a blessing as it sounds, and then looks at novice-friendly and expert-friendly tools for computer programming before moving on to liabilities of over-complex systems and some of the human cost of vulnerability to cascading systems failure.
I deleted my ChatGPT app
A passage in Plato’s Phaedrus offers a critique of writing when writing was the hot new technology that offered to simply improve thinking with no negative effects:
Socrates: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis was sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days Thamus was the king of the whole of Upper Egypt, which is in the district surrounding that great city which is called by the Hellenes Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he went through them, and Thamus inquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. There would be no use in repeating all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; for this is the cure of forgetfulness and folly. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, he who has the gift of invention is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance a paternal love of your own child has led you to say what is not the fact: for this invention of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters. You have found a specific, not for memory but for reminiscence, and you give your disciples only the pretence of wisdom; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome, having the reputation of knowledge without the reality.
The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.
Advertising copy for ChatGPT claimed that it could stimulate the imagination, and I looked at it for a second and said that it could probably do that used a certain way, but the more likely outcome would be that people would have it do their thinking for them.
It was not terribly much longer that I heard of YouTube videos of boyfriends copying and pasting ChatGPT responses because they didn’t know how to console their girlfriends. I am unsure of the timeline, but the YouTube videos may have been live well before I made my “prediction.”
I read Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, and it was nice to have a relatively up-to-date statement of things that were already mostly things I already knew; then I read another book of his, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us and How Computers are Changing Us and found a serious challenge that left me reconsidering a fairly deeply-held belief.
I have long been interested in UX (“User eXperience,” the “Let’s not forget the person who actually uses this” discipline within Information Technology), and I have labored hard at good UX for my main site, and inwardly winced at what Substack didn’t allow me to do for UX on my Substack. I couldn’t make visited and unvisited links look different, despite this being a top recommendation for good UX that is violated on the Web. My writing may be challenging to read; I prefer not to have on top of that difficulty people having trouble figuring out how to use my site.
In The Glass Cage, Nicholas Car says essentially that a high level of UX in software tools used to develop a skill dumbs down people’s performance and learning for that skill. For a classic puzzle, a tool with highly enabled UX that showed, for instance, what were legal moves and what not, people learned and retained much less than a more basic user interface that required people to master what moves were legal themselves.
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