Large language models seem startlingly intelligent. But what’s really happening under the hood?
The sudden emergence of ChatGPT and other similar chatbots has produced a wave of urgent questions. Do these A.I. tools contain a form of intelligence or consciousness that rivals our own? Will they take our jobs, upend our economy, and even one day threaten our lives? It’s tempting to entertain the gloomiest of doomsday predictions, but, as the writer and computer scientist Cal Newport points out today, “If we treat these new artificial-intelligence tools as mysterious black boxes,” we can’t begin to predict what future they might portend. And so Newport takes us on a thorough, deeply engaging, and only slightly mind-bending tour inside the black box to explain how software like ChatGPT works, what it might achieve, and, perhaps most important, why it doesn’t “represent an alien intelligence with which we must now learn to coexist.”