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ChatGPT4: the Old, the New, the Human, and Self-Distance

By Jack Verschoyle

“Das Neue fügt nicht dem Alten, sich hinzu sondern bleibt die Not des Alten”

– Adorno, Reflexionen zur Klassentheorie*

What is ChatGPT4? ChatGPT4 is automation done very quickly. ChatGPT4 analyses text according to patterns determined from a large initial body of data. It responds with text that is deemed appropriate according to these same patterns and certain preference algorithms.

Can ChatGPT4 replace us? Yes, if we have become the kind of things that can be replaced by machines.

The Fetishization of the New

When the moment moves, everyone – whether those pushing it or those reaching for its hem – has developed a tendency to herald its significance. The (to be expected) ruthlessness of financial speculation has penetrated informatic speculation, as the news and media industries skyrocket. No one wants to be left behind, so any shift – as long as it is the most recent – has become the site of a frenzy of outrageous opportunity. “If something has already been said about it, then I can’t be the ground breaker” – an appropriately productive metaphor. Today, this is the starting point for anyone who wants to make a public name for themselves today.

We leave the old behind because it is not new. And the new has become the most recent and the not yet speculated about. But to identify the new with the recent is to identify the old with the non-recent past and, to some extent, to resign to what has already been said. As a result, we no longer grant ourselves distance from the past. Distance gives us perspective; an opportunity for us to understand the role of our present in history. This role is forgotten if we think of the past as “one fucking thing after another”; as the procession of unquestionable facts.

Even the archaeologist who digs up the bones of our ancestors is under the illusion that an immutable past is in their hands. They are blind to our gaping interpretive jaws which swallow it all up. To turn history into the non-recent past is an act of self-laceration; it is to reduce all moments – past, present, and future – to states of being. It is to have no sense of becoming or purpose, which has been ours to define since we overthrew the natural hierarchies of monarchy and theology. Our present is a becoming whether we recognise it or not, the question is whether we will decide the becoming that it is. So, thought today suffers from the deadliest kind of amnesia.

To identify the new with the recent is to deny the possibility that nothing has changed, and that might very well be the case. Despite the appearance of ingenuity, from the news station to the influencer, behind every headline and every post hides the viewing numbers and the acceptable story; just added to the conformism which hides in the stockholder meeting room.

Is ChatGPT4 the dawn of a new age? No. What there is to say about ChatGPT4 has already been said of our past. If something must be said, it should be either a quote or a summary. To say anything worthwhile about ChatGPT4, one need not be creative or even have fast automated abilities – so they don’t even need the capabilities of ChatGPT4.

What We Are

ChatGPT4 is our slave – it is a robot; the word coming from the Czech robuta, meaning forced labour. Whatever it does has origin in us. Čapek writes, in an introduction to the play from which the English gets the term ‘robot’,

The old inventor [the protagonist of the play], Mr. Rossum […] is a typical representative of the scientific materialism […] inspired by a foolish and obstinate wish to prove God to be unnecessary and absurd.**

If God is the human ideal, Mr. Rossum’s science becomes the attempt to prove the human unnecessary and absurd. I hope any attempt will be unsuccessful, but I disagree with Čapek that this wish is “foolish and obstinate”; I am not so optimistic. We are perfectly capable of proving our obsolescence if we decide that we are indistinguishable from robots. Čapek goes on,

Young Rossum is the modern scientist, untroubled by metaphysical ideas; scientific experiment is to him the road to industrial production. He is not concerned to prove, but to manufacture.

The question of who we are is a question of manufacturing, and of the material organisation of society. In this, I side with Mr Rossum.

Is ChatGPT4 creative? No, automatic performance of a processes created by humans is not creative, and it cannot itself genuinely create. ChatGPT4 is extremely adept at demonstrating, and to some extent, explaining the limits of its assistance to society. ChatGPT4 is parasitic on the written product of society. If the essence of society doesn’t change, the responses of ChatGPT4 will not convey any essentially different principles.

Unless we realise our creativity, this difference between us and AI will remain hidden. This incredible technological development will only realise its full potential if we realise ours. But we constrain our potential. ChatGPT4 could be a tool for the revolutionization of the white-collar industry, but that would put too many people out of jobs. And we have no way of keeping them alive if they don’t work! (Right?) And we can’t be seen to think it’s OK to let people die… especially not the middle class… so we’ll have to keep ChatGPT4 in check. All this is forgotten in the uproar about a new age of society with AI.

Woe to those who suggest that an AI-led dystopia is immanent. Let them have the more and more disappointing fantasies of Disney and Netflix (whose creators rely on franchises and TV series to guilt-trip a viewership into existence). If ChatGPT4 did suggest that we form a Mad-Max-esque society, at least it would recognise the barbarism of the status quo, which for many is perhaps not dissimilar to being left to the biceps and abs of Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy, or whatever jacked-up dude is in the gym preparing for the next reboot (I just looked it up; it’s Chris Hemsworth).

A revolutionary change in the organisation of society needs our creative humanity.

Our Self-Distance

Could you pass a Turing test? Are you really thinking? Do not our new agencies sound more and more automated? Couldn’t ChatGPT4, trained on the literary product of a party, do as good or, if not, a better job? Yes.

The more we believe we can be replaced by ChatGPT4, the more we will be replaced. Because if we don’t see the difference, why not go the full nine yards. The more we are replaced, the more we can be replaced. If a system like ChatGPT4 becomes dominant in work, the question of replacement will have this system as part of the measure. In consequence, the human will lose its authenticity qua ritual value. A human will become a merely exhibitable bitch as “unnecessary and absurd” as God was for Mr Rossum. This will be a replacement not in appearance, but in reality, and more specifically in our reality of thought. To rephrase Benjamin, that which withers in the age of AI is the aura of thought.***

We will lose our distance to ourselves, like the traveller loses their distance to the mountain range when they equate it to the tourist’s print on their wall. Again, distance provide perspective, and perspective is a way to seeing reality that is subject to us and not vice versa. This is not to reject the claim that the human has already been cast under the gaze of mechanical reproduction. It has. The interests of industry have long guided the question of human population; where it should increase, where it should decrease. Cf. the repeal of rights to abortion in the US (2022) and the repeal of the one child policy in China (2016) (not to forget the one child policy itself. 1980-2016).

In the material organisation of society the human is in question, but it always has been.


Can ChatPGT4 replace us? Yes, if we have become the kind of things that can be replaced by machines.

Who are we? That is not merely a question of our opinion, but of what we do and of the material organisation of society. References * English translation: “The new does not add itself to the old but remains the old in distress”. Adorno, Theodor W. "Reflexionen zur Klassentheorie." Gesammelte Schriften, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, vol. 8, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2003, pp. 361-374.

** Čapek, K. (1923). R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots (P. Selver, Trans.). A.A. Knopf. *** “Was im Zeitalter der technischen Reproduzierbarkeit des Kunstwerks verkümmert, das ist seine Aura.” English translation: “That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.” Benjamin, Walter. "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit." Illuminationen. Ausgewählte Schriften, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1991, pp. 423-463.

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