07 Dec '22
A School of Cybernetics strategy meeting with ChatGPT
Back at my desk after a couple of days off I finally got a chance to fire up the OpenAI ChatGPT AI language model that everyone’s talking about.
Here’s—and this is the honest truth—the first conversation I had with it. The initial paragraph was from the ANU School of Cybernetics website, and from there we just freewheeled. My inputs are in regular type, the ChatGPT responses are in the coloured boxes.
begin chat transcript
The 3A Institute sits within the School of Cybernetics with the mission to build a new branch of engineering to take AI-enabled cyber-physical systems to scale and to create a new generation of practitioners with the skills and knowledge we need to help shape this future safely, sustainably and responsibly.
As people invent, commercialise and operationalise new technologies, new practitioners emerge to manage them. Just as the invention of programmable computers led to the professionalisation of software engineers, cyber-physical systems will lead to a new type of engineer.
We don’t know what this new type of engineering will be called yet, but we know we need it if we are to build a safe, sustainable and responsible future.
Give 5 concrete examples of how ideas from cybernetics can help:
- Cybernetics can help with the design and optimization of complex systems, such as transportation networks or power grids, by using feedback loops and control systems to ensure efficient and reliable operation.
- Cybernetic principles can be applied to the development of intelligent machines and autonomous systems, enabling them to learn from their environment and adapt to changing conditions.
- Cybernetics can be used to improve human-machine interactions, such as through the design of user-friendly interfaces or the integration of wearable technologies that enhance our physical abilities.
- Cybernetic concepts can be applied to the study of biological systems, such as the nervous system, to gain a better understanding of how they function and how they can be treated or improved.
- Cybernetics can be used to address societal challenges, such as promoting sustainable development or addressing inequality, by providing a framework for analyzing and addressing complex systems-level problems.
Can you try again, but this time using the 19th Century Australian Overland Telegraph as a framing device?
Sure, here are five examples of how ideas from cybernetics can help using the 19th Century Australian Overland Telegraph as a framing device:
- The Overland Telegraph relied on a complex network of telegraph lines, stations, and operators to transmit messages across the vast Australian continent. Cybernetics can help optimize the design and operation of such networks by using feedback loops and control systems to ensure efficient and reliable communication.
- The Overland Telegraph used complex coding systems to encode and decode messages, and cybernetic principles can be applied to the development of intelligent machines and algorithms that can learn and adapt to improve the efficiency and accuracy of such coding systems.
- The Overland Telegraph required skilled operators to manage the transmission and receipt of messages, and cybernetics can be used to improve human-machine interactions through the design of user-friendly interfaces and tools that enable operators to work more efficiently and effectively.
- The Overland Telegraph relied on a network of towers and poles to support the telegraph lines, and cybernetic concepts can be applied to the study of such infrastructure to optimize its design and maintenance for long-term reliability and durability.
- The Overland Telegraph played a crucial role in connecting remote parts of Australia and facilitating economic and social development, and cybernetics can be used to address societal challenges by providing a framework for analyzing and addressing complex systems-level problems and developing solutions that promote sustainable and equitable growth.
Ok, that’s better—I think it’s important that we provide a uniquely Australian viewpoint on what cybernetics is and how it can help tackle the challenges we face in the 21st century. As a new School of Cybernetics, then, what should our top priorities be?
As a new School of Cybernetics, some top priorities could include:
- Developing a strong research program focused on applying cybernetic principles to real-world challenges facing Australia, such as improving the resilience and sustainability of critical infrastructure, enhancing the security and privacy of digital systems, or addressing complex societal issues such as inequality and climate change.
- Providing high-quality education and training programs that enable students to gain a deep understanding of cybernetic concepts and techniques, and develop the skills and knowledge needed to become leaders in the field.
- Building partnerships and collaborations with other academic institutions, industry partners, and government agencies to facilitate the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and expertise, and to support the development and implementation of innovative cybernetic solutions.
- Playing a key role in promoting public awareness and understanding of cybernetics, and addressing common misconceptions and concerns about the field, in order to foster a positive and informed dialogue about its potential benefits and limitations.
- Establishing a strong and supportive community of scholars, practitioners, and stakeholders within the field of cybernetics, and providing opportunities for networking, collaboration, and professional development.
end chat transcript
Well, wow. This required no re-prompting or editing on my part.
I should say that I share all of the skepticism (and fears!) of folks who are pointing out that these language models don’t actually understand things. In some cases this means the output of these models is benign but incorrect, and it’s easy to think of situations where real harm could be caused.
Upon close reading, I don’t think the above responses capture the full breadth of what we’re trying to do here in the School of Cybernetics. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t impressed.
As I tweeted earlier this morning:
all this ChatGPT stuff means that we as a society are gonna have to get a lot better at drinking from the bullshit firehose, and fast
I’ll pen some more thoughts about what it all means when I’ve had some more time to digest things.