ChatGPT, or the Eschatology of Machines (e-flux journal, issue #137, June 2023 )

ChatGPT has triggered enthusiasm and fear since its launch in November 2022. Its apparent mastery of the semantics and syntax—but not yet the content—of different languages surprises users expecting an ordinary chatbot. Some universities immediately banned students from using ChatGPT for essay writing since it outperforms most human students. Newspaper op-eds announced the end of education—not only because students can use it to do homework, but also because ChatGPT can provide more information than many teachers. Artificial intelligence seems to have conquered another domain that, according to classical philosophy, defines human nature: logos. Panic grows with this further loss of existential territory. The apocalyptic imagination of human history intensifies as climate collapse and robot revolt evoke end times.

The end times were no stranger to the moderns. Indeed, in Karl Löwith’s 1949 book Meaning in History, the philosopher showed that the modern philosophy of history, from Hegel to Burckhardt, was a secularization of eschatology. The telos of history is what makes the transcendent immanent, whether the second coming of Jesus Christ or simply the becoming of Homo deus. This biblical or Abrahamic imagination of time offers many profound reflections on human existence more generally, yet also stands in the way of understanding our future.

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Chinese translation of ChatGPT, or the Eschatology of Machines (Voices of Photography, issue 35)

ChatGPT自2022年11月推出以來,便引發了狂熱與恐懼。它對不同語言的語義及語法的嫻熟掌握(但尚未精通內容),令只是期待普通聊天機器人的使用者感到驚訝。有些大學院校立即禁止學生使用ChatGPT來寫論文,因為它的表現優於多數人類學生。報紙上的專欄文章則宣布了教育的終結──不僅因為學生可以用它來做作業,還因為ChatGPT比很多老師能提供更多的資訊。人工智慧似乎已征服了另一個根據古典哲學來定義人性的領域:邏各斯(logos)。恐慌隨著存在領域(existential territory)1的進一步喪失而加劇。當氣候的崩壞和機器人的反叛召喚出了末世,人類歷史的世界末日想像變得更加強烈。 末日對於現代人來說從來都不陌生。事實上,哲學家卡爾.洛維特(Karl Löwith)在1949年出版的《歷史的意義》(Meaning in History)一書即指出,現代歷史哲學──從黑格爾(Hegel)到布克哈特(Burckhardt)──就是末世論的世俗化2。歷史的終極目標便是使超越的變成內在(makes the transcendent immanent),不論是耶穌基督的第二次降臨或只是成為神人(Homo deus)。更廣泛地說,這種對歷史時期的聖經式或亞伯拉罕式想像,為人類的存在提供了許多深刻反思,卻也阻礙了對於我們的未來之理解。 more