Tuesday, July 04, 2023


A robot using a computer

TPhoto: JoeBakal / Shutterstock.com (Shutterstock)

When reading this blurb, think The Man Who Came to Dinner, a biting comedy about a family being terrorized by Sheridan Whiteside, a self-absorbed boor of a man who slips on a patch of ice prior to an arranged dinner with Ernest W. Stanley and his family. 

Confined to the house for a month, Whiteside drives his hosts mad by viciously insulting them, monopolizing their house and staff, running up large phone bills, and receiving many bizarre guests, including paroled convicts, and the eccentric Professor Metz, who brings him a glass-encased cockroach colony. Although he earns the intense dislike of Mr. Stanley, Whiteside manages to befriend his adult children, June and Richard, as well as his wildly eccentric older sister, Harriet Stanley. 

Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, it's funny as hell but this blurb's not about the play but rather about Google explicitly saying the company reserves the right to scrape just about everything you post online to build its AI tools. If Google can read your words, assume they belong to the company now, and expect that they’re nesting somewhere in the bowels of a chatbot. 

Something akin to a digital Sheridan Whiteside who will never go away comes to mind here, right?

To whit ...

The practice raises new and interesting privacy questions. People generally understand that public posts are public. But today, you need a new mental model of what it means to write something online. It’s no longer a question of who can see the information, but how it could be used. There’s a good chance that Bard and ChatGPT ingested your long forgotten blog posts or 15-year-old restaurant reviews. As you read this, the chatbots could be regurgitating some humonculoid version of your words in ways that are impossible to predict and difficult to understand.

One of the less obvious complications of the post ChatGPT world is the question of where data-hungry chatbots sourced their information. Companies including Google and OpenAI scraped vast portions of the internet to fuel their robot habits. It’s not at all clear that this is legal, and the next few years will see the courts wrestle with copyright questions that would have seemed like science fiction a few years ago. In the meantime, the phenomenon already affects consumers in some unexpected ways.

It goes beyond that as our posts, in effect, are no longer ours, content able to be distorted and manipulated by entities like Google as needs warrant. Think Funhouse, I know I have. 

Funhouse ... complete with feet 2020

 At the end of the play, Whiteside slips on the ice yet again while leaving the Stanley's. 

No comments: