In 2023, the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence (AI) in our daily lives sparks a captivating debate: can machines ever surpass humans in the realm of creativity and storytelling? As AI tools like ChatGPT, Stability Diffusion, and countless others continue to emerge, we find ourselves at a crossroads, questioning the future of human involvement in crafting narratives. Storytelling has been central to human culture for millennia, enabling the transmission of knowledge, values, and information across generations. With AI's rapid advancement, it's time to explore whether our unique storytelling abilities will remain exclusively human or if machines will eventually take the lead.
In episode 93 of the Feedback Loop Podcast, professor of story science at Ohio State University's project narrative, Angus Fletcher, pulls on his background in literature and neuroscience to understand how brains and machines process story and narrative. Angus has made some bold claims, including putting forth proof that "even a sentient self-aware or infinitely powerful computer could never innovate" because, in essence, it can't engage in negative thought. Angus argues that computer AI cannot replicate human creativity and that our expectations around self-driving cars and Chat GPT come down largely to a human-guided prank that pretends to do something it's not really doing.
With the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence (AI), the distinction between human and machine abilities may become more apparent. Below we’ve summarized Fletcher's five main differences in how AI vs Humans thinking, supporting his thought that AI may not advance enough to dominate humanity completely without the human ability to create a narrative:
- AI cannot engage in negative thought: Angus Fletcher claims that even a sentient, self-aware, or infinitely powerful computer could never innovate because it can't engage in negative thought, a key aspect of human creativity.
- AI lacks the capacity to understand cause and effect: While humans can understand the difference between cause and effect, AI struggles with making causal connections. This ability to reason causally is essential in many fields and contributes to human creativity.
- AI thinks in truth, not narrative: Computers operate in the mathematical present tense, dealing with things that are eternally true without changing over time. In contrast, humans think in narrative, which allows for a more nuanced understanding of the world and fosters creativity.
- AI cannot fully comprehend time: Machine computing cannot capture the entirety of a process that unfolds over time, as it can only compute in snapshots. This limitation is a fundamental difference in how computers and humans process information, affecting creative capabilities.
- AI thinks in probabilities, not future states and causal chains: When a computer plays chess, it doesn't consider all the possible future states and causal chains involved in a move. Instead, it thinks of all possibilities at once as probabilities, which is a different way of thinking and limits creative potential.
As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving world of technology, Fletcher urges listeners to embrace our human capacity for narrative and imagination, "There's a huge role for imagination in the future as an engineer, as a scientist, as anyone. And at the moment, that's a human capacity. So don't give up the gifts, don't give up the opportunity."
By understanding the distinct mechanisms of narrative and logic, we can appreciate the potential for partnership and collaboration between humans and machines. By leveraging the strengths of both, we can develop more effective strategies for problem-solving and communication.
To delve further into this thought-provoking discussion on the unique aspects of human creativity and the role of storytelling in our lives, don't miss the full episode of the Feedback Loop Podcast featuring Angus Fletcher. Give it a listen and expand your perspective on the future of human-AI collaboration.
- What is Fletcher's background and the focus of his work? What is he working on these days?
- Why is Fletcher skeptical about ChatGPT?
- Does archiving non-human results through technology diminish its value?
- Do animals think narratively, or is it unique to humans with complex language?
- Is technology causing a fragmented and isolated society, where separate realities and narratives lead to a loss of a cohesive narrative that brings harmony to society?
- What are Fletcher's thoughts on memes and their potential to influence narrative?
- What is the discussion of the evolution of literature as explored in Fletcher's book Wonderworks, which examines the 25 most powerful inventions in literary history?
- Is customized narrative a key way to navigate the rapid technological changes we are experiencing in order to better understand our relationship with the world?
- Assuming Fletcher's claims are valid, what are the implications for society, and where should we invest our time and energy as we navigate this current moment of rapid AI and technological advancements?
- Is it possible to build a non-computational machine for narrative intelligence, and what kind of machine would that be?
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