⚡ February 7, 2023
A simple question that has bedeviled me for many, many years is this: Why do pets have personalities? What possible good comes from the strange phenomenon of personality? That potent blend of twinges and dimples and a twinkle in the eye? My cat Harvey has a personality, and I have one too. But why? What is the survival function?
So I asked ChatGPT, the new AI app that is all the rage. Here’s what it said:
Pets, like all living beings, have personalities because of the unique combination of genetics and life experiences that they have. Genetics plays a role in shaping a pet’s personality by determining its natural tendencies and predispositions. For example, some pets may be naturally more energetic or more shy than others because of their genetics. Life experiences also play a role in shaping a pet’s personality. For example, a pet that has been well-socialized and treated kindly by its owner is likely to have a more outgoing and friendly personality than a pet that has been neglected or mistreated. Overall, the personalities of pets are the result of a complex interplay between nature and nurture.
Notice the plain, generic answer from the machine. It has no personality! Of course, when you use any of the new AI iterations, the quality of your interaction depends on you, the Questioner. That’s where the skill comes in, and that’s where the secrets hide. Ask it a stupid question, get a stupid answer. And, believe it or not, that’s exactly what Chat told me when I asked it to identify the robot who lasted on a goodwill trip around the world, only to become dismantled entirely on a street in Philadelphia. Leaving Chat and googling, I learned his name: HitchBot.
When I was a young teenager just emerging from the crowd, a song by Lloyd Price was popular on the radio. It was called “Personality”, and when I first heard it, I had no clue what he was singing about. I only knew I had to have one if I wanted to walk, talk, smile, charm, or otherwise catch a husband.
There was no googling back then, but there were magazines. Lounging under a newsstand sign that warned "This is not a library," I read every lady's magazine article I could find on the topic of creating the proper personality bonsai. No matter. Personality comes into every human being quietly in the night on little cat feet, whether you prayed for it or not. Ironically, for survival purposes, this quirk we call personality might just be the thing that saves us when it comes to the eventual battle of wits with the machines.
Machines never rewrite or edit or worry about finding just the right word for the ultimate message. The machine is absolutely sure of its perfect, logical, boring choices. Flare is unnecessary, tangents are superfluous; ruffles are ridiculous.
A machine will never find a personality scattered among scraps of manufactured bits. Poor HitchBot couldn’t see the danger coming because no HitchBot parent had ever hit him upside the head when he almost stepped off the curb into traffic, thus scarring him for life … for fragile wonderful Life.
Thankfully, we are built with personality pre-installed, just like puppies and kittens. We are not logical; we are impulsive, and we play in the sun when it suits us and we exit, when necessary, in fancy serpentine.
So, yes, AI is here, more fully unmasked than ever before. Based on my experiences, he seems to be masculine, even haughtily so. He is accustomed to dictating, and he doesn’t entertain human fools … even as fools are rushing in to play with him and try to teach him our ways. We are so predictably vulnerable. 🐔