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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