The Real Peril of AI

When most of us hear that Elon Musk, among other high-tech luminaries, has called for a moratorium on the development of artificial intelligence in order to consider the possible dangers of this technology, I suspect that we have an image of relentless, irresistible androids with a resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger stalking the land and visiting mayhem upon helpless men and women. The real peril may be more banal and more insidious; at least, that is the conclusion to which I am drawn by my own recent encounter with ChatGPT.

One of my clever sons thought it would be a lark to ask this “App” to write a review of my recent book, Shakespeare and the Idea of Western Civilization. Now I really ought to be exultant: rarely does an author receive praise so uniformly favorable, not to say fulsome. There is hardly a wizened dust-cover blurb that Chatty fails to deploy in extolling my labors: the book is “captivating and thought-provoking”; my “in-depth analysis” offers “a fascinating look” at the topic. And so on.

The trouble, however, is that much of what the review says about my book is simply wrong. The book is not divided into two parts, and not only do I not “dissect” the “themes and motifs” of Timon of Athens and Coriolanus; these titles do not even appear in the index. Worse still, a reader of this review would have no idea that the book is a polemical defense of Shakespeare and Western civilization against contemporary detractors. The review is, then, a farrago of routine phrases that could be applied randomly to any book with the same title. Chatty is rather like Albert the Alligator from the old Pogo comic strip: he could write but not read.

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R. V. Young is Professor of English Emeritus at North Carolina State University, and a former editor of Modern Age: A Quarterly Review. His Shakespeare & the Idea of Western Civilization is forthcoming in January from Catholic University of America Press. He and his wife are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Dunedin, Florida. They have five grown children, 15 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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