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No Laughing Matter

Jerry Seinfeld warns on artificial intelligence
May 16th, 2024

Photo courtesy of Ralph_PH / Creative Commons by 2.0 Deed

May 16, 2024

By Jim Towey

Commencement addresses on American campuses are part of the rite of passage for the approximately 2 million men and women who don the cap and gown, process across the stage, and get their diplomas each year.  But the speech Jerry Seinfeld delivered last weekend at Duke University’s commencement will not be forgotten.

In his customary manner of serving up observational humor seasoned with a little sarcasm and satire, he delighted all but the 30 or so students who walked out of his speech.  You see, Seinfeld is pro-Israel and these students, after four years of higher education, couldn’t bear to have him among them on the quad, couldn’t handle hearing from someone who holds a point of view different from theirs.

The walk-out by the small group of students was hyped by most media outlets.  But the protest was a flop, drowned out by chants of “Jer-ry! Jer-ry!”  You could almost read the minds of the parents sitting there: “Could you give it a rest?  Covid screwed up our child’s high school graduation, you better not ruin this one that I paid $300,000 for!”

Jerry’s warning

What caught my attention, but not the national media’s, was Seinfeld’s incisive commentary on artificial intelligence, delivered as stand-up in a way only he can:

“AI, on the other hand, is the most embarrassing thing we’ve ever invented in mankind’s time on earth.  Oh, so you can’t do the work.  Is that what you’re telling me?  You can’t figure it out?  This seems to be the justification of AI: I couldn’t do it.  This is something to be embarrassed about.  The ad campaign for ChatGPT should be the opposite of Nike: You just can’t do it.  Making fake brains is risky.  Frankenstein proved that.  He was so dumb he thought a monster needed a sport jacket.  It’s not a wine tasting; we’re terrorizing villagers.  No one’s going to tell you, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Stein, it’s jackets only this evening.’  What I like is we’re smart enough to invent AI, dumb enough to need it, and still so stupid we can’t figure out if we did the right thing.

“Making work easier, this is the problem.  So obsessed with getting to the answer, completing the project, producing a result, which are all valid things.  But not where the richness of the human experience lies.  The only two things you ever need to pay attention to in life are work and love.  Things that are self-justified in the experience, and who cares about the result.  Stop rushing to what you perceive as some valuable endpoint.  Learn to enjoy the expenditure of energy that may or may not be on the correct path.”

A.I. and romance

One area AI is hoping to lend a digital hand in is romance.  Now, the character Jerry Seinfeld had an abundance of girlfriends during the life of the show: his maid, a deaf lineswoman, a masseuse, a woman with a name he couldn’t remember, one who posed as his wife to get a dry-cleaning discount, and a phone sex worker.  The quirks and quandaries embedded in Jerry’s dating adventures made for many laughs.  Such human creativity explains why the show was the most popular sitcom ever (okay, George, Kramer and Elaine had something to do with it, too).

If only Jerry had lived in the age of AI, he would not have had to work so hard to find true, authentic love!  The Wall Street Journal reported this week that a new AI tool, inspired by Hollywood, will soon be available for lonely hearts.  It is patterned after “Her,” a science fiction movie about a man who falls in love with his AI voice assistant (seriously).  The WSJ explains how life-like this new, phony friend could be: “The new model could also detect a person’s emotions in their tone of voice or facial expression, OpenAI said.  It also more rapidly switches between different emotional tones from a dramatic voice to a robotic tone to singing.  This feature will roll out to users who pay for ChatGPT-Plus, the company’s $20-a-month feature in coming weeks.”

Only twenty bucks a month!  What a bargain! Barnum and Bailey would be proud.

Our tech masters want humans to live in an imaginary “metaverse” devoid of authentic meaning and are hastening to recoup their billions by pushing purchasable fantasy friends that seem human.  This includes an AI relationship coach to help lonely hearts fall in love with someone or something, like Joaquim Phoenix did in the movie.

Jerry’s right.  Work and love really matter to human beings.  AI is coming after both.

(The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Aging with Dignity and/or its Board of Directors.)


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