A New Tide Is Here

Manu is a friend who has a penchant for Shakespeare. The running debate we have often is the pertinence of some Shakespeare quotes he shares for situations we face everyday. Somebody gets arrested, he has a quote from Shakespeare.  One country bombs another, he has a quote. His son throws a tantrum, he has a quote to describe it.  Last week, he said “A new tide is here” and went on to invoke Shakespeare. 

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

I had to give it to him. This time his quote was perfect. “No. This is not with help of Chat GPT”, he hastened to add. That he chose to add that sentence was telling enough for me.  A new tide is here. Indeed. 

Tides have a way of coming. They don’t really go back. They get replaced by a new tide. But with AI, Open AI, Deep Mind and such others, a new tide is here indeed. And how! The irony? Much of the world doesn’t accord the importance this new tide ought to be accorded. This can well be a tsunami that is masquerading as yet another ordinary tide. 

But before we go there, I will highly recommend a documentary that Manu recommended.  It’s called AlphaGo. It shows a story from March 2016. For the first time in human history a software beat a world champion in the Chinese game of Go. It is phenomenal at many levels. But there are three inflection points that stay with me.

Three Pointers To The New Tide

There are three important pointers from the documentary to understand the new tide better. 

The first one is a move by AlphaGo. Move 37. That move can’t be deciphered by accomplished Go players and commentators.   They called it a “strange move”. Lee Sedol, the champion who was competing against the programme said later, “I thought it was a mistake”.  And then, he struggled for 15 minutes to think of the next move.  Fan Hui, the European Champion says, “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move”.  And the game has been played for 2500 years! In more ways than one, Move 37 represents the prowess that machines have over the human mind.

The second one is Move 78 made by Lee Sedol. A move that adds oodles of belief that humans can still outwit a brilliant programme.  Move 78 has since been referred to as ‘God’s move’. AlphaGo computed that only 1 in 10000 humans would make that move! Lee Sedol, at the end of the match, says, “That was the only move possible”. It seemed obvious to him. In that move, the champion showcased the creative prowess that rests in us.

The third pointer that stands out for me is not the match itself, but the post match conferences.  That footage and the body language of the folks who appear on screen is something to watch indeed. It’s a five match series. I was so taken by the sepulchral mood post every defeat of the world champion. It felt personal. And then, he pulls one back. Such a joy to see the whole room erupts in celebration.  A celebration of the victory of a human over machine, if you will. A machine that humankind built by the way.  But there is poignancy and sadness when ultimately the machine beat the champion 4-1. A poignancy that I caught in everyone across the room. Including the creators of AlphaGo. Their machine beat a fellow human. That feeling is unique to being human. 

So, what now?

That event happened in March 2016. Things have changed dramatically since then. With Open AI and Chat GPT, our lives are going to be fundamentally altered very soon, if not already. Our jobs, leisure, longevity, health, society and every aspect of what it means to be alive on Planet Earth will undergo deep transformation. Much of it will be sudden. More of it will happen over time. There have been calls to pause and/or stop all Artificial Intelligence based research for it is without guardrails of any kind. I don’t foresee any of it happening.

As lay people, we have to keep irrational exuberance or the impossible pessimism out of the way and begin to evolve familiarity and a point of view. This will come from conversations, experiments and trials. We have to get ready for a different life. Urgently! 

For a long time now, humankind has gotten away with living mechanistic lives. When machines step up and promise to do that stuff with ease, the need to do some deep search and work on the ‘humaneness’ that rests inside each of us becomes paramount.  What it takes to be human is beyond the realm of the new tide that is here. At least not yet. 

Even as we get to keep up with the technology, it is a good idea to wade deeper and find what it really means to be alive! That’s exactly where me and Manu signed off. “We know what we are, but not what we may be.” “That was Shakespeare in Hamlet”, Manu said. “No Chat GPT again”, he said. “I have to say it aloud these days”. Change is indeed afoot.

OWL Despatch
OWL Despatch

Some Changes To The OWL Despatch

I have been writing and putting together The OWL Despatch for a few years now. Typically, one ever fortnight that has a short essay and five interesting reads that I have read the past fortnight. I have also been cross-posting the entire post online. From the previous edition, I am sharing the curated reading lists and other pieces with subscribers while leaving the essay on the web. The subscription remains free. For now :).

If you are yet to subscribe, may I invite you to click on this link please. Besides sharing it with your friends! Typically it takes less than 180 seconds. That’s to help you with telling time for this.

Write a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.