Dazzled, Then Frazzled

I like to think that once upon a time, The Mrs was dazzled by me. A time when I could do no wrong and say no wrong. When everything about me felt right to her. When my opinions mattered, and were always sought. When to her, my crooked teeth were the only crooked thing about me. When all that hung around my neck was a little wooden gourd strung by a sweat-soaked thread and she would still be dazzled by me. When all I had slinging from my shoulder was a cotton linen bag. When the only jacket in my wardrobe was a hand-me-down, almost thread-bare, black cotton jacket that was too thin for winter and too thick for the rest of the year. When my oral hygiene was never questioned and chewing gum wasn’t necessary. When body deodorant was foreign to me and my body odour was never an issue. When she asked me to hang around a bit more, eventhough I felt I may have overstayed after a dinner invitation. Alright, it was a self-invitation. I visited her unannounced at dinner-time and told her I had not eaten all day. But as the years passed, my mere presence had become thorny, the theory I toyed with was that she had become frazzled by my voice, my hair and my words. By me, to be precise. But, I hang on to the idea that it is just a theory. Routine bores and mundane chores are energy-sapping. Maybe it is the daily grind that frazzles us.

When Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, he dazzled the world with his freshness, his candid words and most of all, his aversion for stuffy political correctness. It was Trump who got most of us interested in American politics for the first time. The late-night shows were as hilarious as any nightly Seinfeld or M.A.S.H. episode. Trump promised to drain the swamp, build the fence, make Mexico pay for it and make America great again. But, we didn’t count on him to tear up the Paris Agreement on climate change or the Iran nuclear deal or the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, or abandon the WHO in the midst of a pandemic. We certainly didn’t think he would risk a Cold War with China let alone a hot one. Least of all, no one expected him to let people die so that the lockdowns in place could be relaxed more quickly than justified. No one thought the most powerful country in the world would also be the worst in containing the pandemic. His political manoeuvres have been ugly and his disdain and disrespect for the law potentially destructive for well-entrenched U.S. government systems and protocols. It is fair to say the majority of Americans are frazzled by this man who has shown little ability to mend the many wrongs in their society. His law and order mantra has been possible only by activating his supporters to violently disrupt mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. Today’s COVID-19 count in the U.S. reached six million cases with a death toll of 183,000. Those not feeling frazzled there have got to be urghhlings!

When the first wave of the pandemic arrived on the shores of Australia in February 2020, we were all devastated by the unseen enemy. It was said life would never be the same again. To a large extent, that remains true. Melbourne is again under Stage 4 lockdown, businesses cannot open and are locked up for a second time. Many small ones have not survived, even with the government’s very generous stimulus packages. Many chain stores have called in the liquidators too. Futile fights with greedy shopping centre landlords have only prolonged the agony for shareholders. There have been reports of aggressive and abusive phone calls directed at the Victorian state parliamentarians from people who feel they have lost their freedom, lost their jobs, lost their human rights, or lost loved ones. Yet, not every corner of society is feeling the wrath of the virus. Pockets in the economy are actually doing exceptionally well. The world is seeing high numbers of unemployed and therefore, debt-collectors are rubbing their hands in anticipation of another boom. Gerry Harvey, founder of Harvey Norman could not hide his glee when he said “I’ve never seen anything like this” in his 60 years as a retailer. By “this” he meant the COVID-19-induced boom in home furnishings and electronics. As reported in the Australian Review, same-store sales have soared 40.9 per cent in August and 35.1 per cent in July despite the closure of 18 Melbourne stores. When we can’t travel overseas for our holidays, attend footy games or concerts, or dine out at our favourite restaurants, what do we do with all that stimulus money the government has so kindly given us? We spend it on our house and garden! The likes of Gerry Harvey are dazzled by the gold they have surprisingly found in their bank accounts. In my online business, I have found the local factories all struggling to cope with the prolonged surge in demand. Lead times for orders have ballooned from 2 weeks to 8-10 weeks for many popular custom-made products. Inventories of imported goods are becoming depleted, and supply is becoming very tight in most categories. My business too has been dazzled by a healthy increase in turn-over. We have, however, been pushed to our limits, coping with this unexpected surge in demand with the same number of staff. Now, we are beginning to look and feel frazzled. After all, it has been six months of unrelenting waves of unprecedented demand for our goods and after-sales service.

Yesterday, First Son introduced me to GPT-3. I was totally enthralled by it. The possibilities dazzled me, and then frazzled me. Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) is a language-based deep-learning computer model that uses ordinary words to write complex algorithms by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a matter of seconds. It is developed by OpenAI, a company started by Elon Musk. The quality of the text generated is already almost indistinguishable to that written by humans, but it is self-learning! So watch this space. Using simple English words, GPT-3 enables AI to do impressive work that not long ago could only be done by clever or tertiary-educated humans. Work performed by highly specialised professionals such as accountants, lawyers, doctors and medical specialists, web designers, translators, marketing and sales people, financial advisers, sharemarket brokers, real-estate brokers, etc, etc are all threatened. AI is not only more intelligent, it also possesses self-learning capabilities. Every job that is today done by humans is at risk since AI is faster, smarter and doesn’t forget and doesn’t need to rest. Initially, I was utterly impressed by GPT-3. Every job in my business can be taken over by it. The web design and development can be done in seconds. Live chats can be manned by AI – my customers won’t even realise it is not me answering their questions – all I need do is name GPT-3 after me! Telephone enquiries can also be performed by GPT-3 although I’ll need to tweak it to sound like me, with an Aussie twang laced with some faint Chinese and “islander” accent. Not so much from Manus, Bougainville or Fiji, but Penang. All communication by emails is easily handled by GPT-3. If it can pretend to be Tom Hanks and convince Tom Hanks himself, it can fool any of us when it pretends to be us. The AI researcher Eliezer Shlomo Yudkowsky observed that GPT-3 can even feign to be wrong. The deliberately deceptive AI troubled me enough to deliver me a sombre night last night. It is already capable of misinformation itself or fake information, we won’t just have State actors and hackers to worry about. With the ability to create portraits of people who don’t exist, it won’t be beyond its intelligence to create a video of a “real” POTUS threatening the world with tariff wars and trade wars. On second thoughts, we already have one. We won’t need GPT-3 to do that. Six years ago, Stephen Hawking warned AI will end mankind. But did he imagine in his wildest dreams that it can be so soon? Here are some words of wisdom from GPT-3. The first example to me is another deception designed to lull us into a false sense of security.

“AI will create jobs if it succeeds and destroy jobs if it fails”

“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less”

“Art is what we do when we run out of useful skills”

“Science fiction and religion are focused on the same answer: the afterlife and the future”

“Responsibility is for the sane. If you’re crazy, you get freedom”

This last example is my favourite. “Music is the most advanced form of mathematics”

GPT-3 to me means AI will win against humans in any field, eventually. What happens to us when all our jobs are taken by AI? When the machines view us as superfluous to requirement, what will they do to us? I am feeling very frazzled now.

Check out what GPT-3 can do https://youtu.be/8V20HkoiNtc

First Son’s pup, Murray, likes to play golf when he is frazzled.

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