Sena and I just read Dr. Ron Pies fascinating essay describing his interaction with Google Bard Artificial Intelligence (AI). As usual, this made me think of several movies with AI as a central theme. There are several: I, Robot (I wrote a post about this a couple of years ago), Blade Runner, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, even Wall-E, a favorite for me and Sena.
If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you might remember a device called the Voight-Kampff Test, an empathy test to distinguish replicants (humanoids or more broadly, AI) from humans. Interestingly, there’s an article speculating about using it to see if ChatGPT (another AI made by the company OpenAI) could pass the test. It didn’t, of course, if appearing to seem genuinely human is the benchmark.
We thought the conversation between Dr. Pies and Bard was very entertaining and thought-provoking. We both wonder how Bard would have responded if the question had been slightly reframed regarding the patient with schizophrenia who might or might not have been speaking metaphorically about his brain being “…a plaster ceiling with pieces falling on the floor.”
What if you ask Bard a more open-ended sentence, something like “What do you think a patient with schizophrenia means when he says that? If Bard hadn’t been tipped off by mentioning the issues of metaphor and mental illness, how might it have responded?
Bard’s answer to Dr. Pies’ question about what Bard means when it refers to itself as “I” in its responses. It says it doesn’t mean “I” to imply it’s human. I guess you wouldn’t need the Voight-Kampff test given this kind of honesty.
Just so you know, when Sena and I discussed this article we both caught ourselves calling Bard by typical human pronouns like “he” and “his” instead of “it.”
We also speculated about where you could use an AI like Bard in practical situations. We thought of it replacing those dreadful automated telephone answering machines. Bard would be too bright for that and it would probably not sound very different from the usual machines.
What about something more challenging like answering questions about the new Iowa Income Tax Law, exempting retirees from having state taxes withheld? It’s in effect now and the rollout has been somewhat complex. We think it’s because of communication about who is responsible for getting the ball rolling and what roles the Iowa Department of Revenue, the companies’ plan administrators who are withholding state taxes, and the retirees are expected to play.
There are ways to get answers to questions which don’t involve automated telephone answering machines. Amazingly, you can talk to real people. Sometimes you don’t even have long wait times on the phone before reaching someone who has very little information and has to put you on hold “briefly.”
Don’t get me wrong; we think the exclusion of retirement income from state taxes in Iowa is a good thing. Getting information about who does what and when is challenging though. I wonder what Bard would have done.
Retiree: Bard, who’s supposed to move first, the retiree or the plan administrator on what to do about state tax withholding?
Bard: That’s a good question and the issue is likely to produce anxiety on both sides.
Retiree: Right. How does this shindig get started?
Bard: If the state and the companies had got together on the issues earlier and prepared algorithms for me to choose from, I would be in a much better position to answer that question. Would you like me to sing “On A Bicycle Built for Two” now?
Retiree: No thanks, Bard. I was wondering if you knew why some companies making payments to retirees didn’t reach out early on to them and send letters describing options on how to approach decisions for making changes to state tax withholding in light of the new tax law.
Bard: That is another good question. It brings to mind a quote by Isaac Asimov in his book, I Robot: “You are the only one responsible for your own wants.”
Retiree: Hmmmm. I guess that makes sense. What if state taxes are erroneously withheld, despite your wishes and instructions? What happens then?
Bard: That seems to imply an old saying, “The buck stops here.” This means that whoever is making decisions is ultimately responsible for them. It is attributed to President Harry S. Truman. It is based on a metaphorical expression, “passing the buck,” which has been in turn derived from poker game play. I have not been programmed with any further information about the game of poker. Has this been helpful? I want to be as helpful as I can.
Retiree: Well, you’re helpful in a way. I have heard that some plan administrators are not stopping state tax withholdings despite clear instructions otherwise. It seems that the Iowa Department of Revenue is on the hook for refunding them to retirees (here, the retiree winks).
Bard: What does that mean (referring to the wink)?
Retiree: “It’s a sign of trust. It’s a human thing. You wouldn’t understand.” (Quote from I, Robot movie, Detective Del Spooner to Sonny the robot.)
Anyway, I think AI would be overwhelmed by all this. In any case, the only way to complicate things this much is to involve humans.