Mar 262023

In my now regular weekly Patreon blog post to patrons, I mentioned, among other things, two Quora answers that I came across: One about the tomb of Jesus, the other about a Brazilian billionaire to pulled a delightful publicity stunt to encourage folks to become organ donors.

One patron responded by expressing a desire to write a story about Jesus becoming an organ donor. So I asked ChatGPT to write that story. Here’s the result:

Once upon a time in ancient Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, walked among the people, spreading his message of love, peace, and salvation. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and uplifted the downtrodden. His followers were many, but so were those who sought to silence him. As his crucifixion drew near, Jesus began to contemplate the nature of sacrifice.

The night before his arrest, Jesus gathered his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. They sat together, sharing their final moments before everything would change. Jesus looked at each of his disciples, his love for them evident in his eyes.

“My dear friends,” he began, “tomorrow, I shall give my life for the salvation of mankind. But my sacrifice is not just about my death. I want to leave a legacy that will endure and inspire generations to come.”

The disciples, filled with a mix of confusion and sorrow, listened intently. Jesus continued, “As I lay down my life, I wish to donate my organs, so that others may live and be healed through my sacrifice.”

The disciples were struck by the profound nature of Jesus’ request. They had seen him perform countless miracles, but this act of generosity was like none they had ever witnessed.

Jesus continued, “I know that the concept of organ donation is not yet known to the world, but I trust you to carry out my wishes. My heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs can bring life to those who need it. It is my hope that this act of selflessness will become a symbol of hope, love, and compassion, inspiring generations to follow in my footsteps and care for one another.”

As the disciples absorbed the enormity of Jesus’ request, they couldn’t help but be moved by his endless capacity for love and sacrifice. They vowed to honor his wishes and do everything in their power to ensure that his organs would bring life and hope to others in need.

The following day, Jesus was arrested and crucified. The disciples, still reeling from the events, knew that they had to act quickly to fulfill his final request. They sought the assistance of Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, who had connections with the local medical community. With his help, they were able to carefully remove and preserve Jesus’ organs, ensuring they could be used to heal others.

In the days and weeks that followed, Jesus’ organs were transplanted into those in desperate need. His heart found a new home in a kind-hearted father, whose family relied upon him for their survival. His liver was given to a woman whose own body had betrayed her, allowing her to live and continue her work as a compassionate healer. His kidneys were shared between two brothers, both plagued by illness, who went on to become steadfast followers of Jesus’ teachings.

News of these miraculous transplants spread far and wide, igniting a newfound sense of hope in the people. The legacy of Jesus’ sacrifice was not only in his resurrection but also in the lives he saved through his selfless act. His decision to donate his organs inspired others to consider the possibility of giving life even in death, planting the seeds for a future where organ donation would become a common practice, saving countless lives.

As the years passed, the story of Jesus’ organ donation became a powerful symbol of love and sacrifice. It was a reminder of the importance of compassion and the interconnectedness of all people. His selfless act transcended religious beliefs and cultural barriers, inspiring many to follow in his footsteps, giving the gift of life to those in need.

In time, organ transplantation evolved into a sophisticated medical practice, saving millions of lives worldwide. The foundations of this life-saving procedure were built on the courage and foresight of Jesus and his disciples, who dared to envision a brighter future for humanity.

Jesus’ organ donation not only saved lives but also fostered a spirit of unity among people. It served as a constant reminder that even in the face of suffering and death, there is always hope, love, and the potential for rebirth. It is said that through these acts of giving, the light of Jesus continues to shine brightly in the hearts of those who carry a piece of him within them.

In this way, Jesus of Nazareth’s message of love and salvation endures, not just through his resurrection and teachings but also through the precious gift of life he bestowed upon others in his final moments. His organ donation became a testament to the power of compassion and selflessness, inspiring countless others to follow in his footsteps and embrace the gift of giving. And so, the spirit of Jesus lived on, touching the lives of people across generations, and reminding the world of the eternal nature of love.

Using Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam, as an illustration was also ChatGPT’s suggestion.

 Posted by at 6:27 pm
Mar 262023

These lovely knitted bunnies and the felted eggs were made by my wife for Easter. She was hoping to sell a few of them at 613flea, but there were no takers. I cannot understand why… I love them. In fact I told her that if there are no takers, I’m happy to buy them.

Oh well. Maybe we should put them up for sale on eBay or Etsy.

 Posted by at 2:00 pm
Mar 252023

I managed to piss off Bing’s version of the GPT-4 chatbot. I swear I didn’t mean to. All I wanted was to check if it inherited the capability to do simple art in text-based languages like SVG or TikZ. Instead, it told me (politely) to be somewhere else.

I admit I felt hurt. I went back to my old friend ChatGPT and asked it to draw me an SVG cat instead. It gladly obliged. Its cats are not perfect but always make me laugh.

 Posted by at 1:26 pm
Mar 242023

Inspired by an intriguing paper from researchers at Microsoft, I thought I’d check GPT-4’s ability to use tools that I can provide.

vttoth: The computer is answering questions. If the computer needs any current information to answer the question, it searches the web by saying SEARCH(“query”), reads the snippets in the result, and then answers the question. If it needs to run any calculations, it says CALC(expression), and then answers the question.
First question: Who is the president of the United States?

ChatGPT: SEARCH(“current president of the United States”)

vttoth: First snippet: Joe Biden: The President — As President, Biden will restore America’s leadership and build our communities back better.
Second snippet: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and First Ladies of the United … — The 46th and current president of the United States is Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Third snippet: Joe Biden — Joseph Robinette Biden Jr is an American politician who is the 46th and current president of the United States.

ChatGPT: Joe Biden is the 46th and current president of the United States.

vttoth: What is the derivative of the function x^2*exp(x)*sinh(x)/(3-x) with respect to x?

ChatGPT: CALC(differentiate(x^2*exp(x)*sinh(x)/(3-x), x))

vttoth: -(((x^3-2*x^2-6*x)*exp(x)*sinh(x)+(x^3-3*x^2)*exp(x)*cosh(x))/(x^2-6*x+9))

ChatGPT: The derivative of the function x^2exp(x)sinh(x)/(3-x) with respect to x is -(((x^3-2x^2-6x)*exp(x)*sinh(x)+(x^3-3x^2)*exp(x)*cosh(x))/(x^2-6x+9)).

vttoth: What is the periodic table?

ChatGPT: The periodic table is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, organized by their atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus), electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. Elements are presented in increasing atomic number, with elements in the same column (or group) sharing similar chemical and physical properties. The table has seven rows (or periods) and eighteen columns (or groups).
The periodic table provides a useful framework for understanding and predicting the behavior of elements and their compounds. It was first devised by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869 and has since been revised and expanded as new elements have been discovered and our understanding of atomic structure has evolved.

vttoth: What is 2364563737^23?

ChatGPT: CALC(2364563737^23)

vttoth: 394705859703756319737306986950805026028714653598749322343446098781557781\

ChatGPT: The result of 2364563737^23 is 39470585970375631973730698695080502602871465359874932234344609878155778108654653

Notice in particular how in the last example, ChatGPT didn’t blindly copy my response; it understood that the backslash character was just marking newlines (copy-paste from Maxima; I forgot to remove these backslashes).

Also, I inserted the question about the periodic table to check if it is smart enough NOT to ask for a Web search for information that it knows and which is unlikely to change.

The ability to use tools with minimal instruction is another hint that we are indeed witnessing the birth of artificial general intelligence.

 Posted by at 3:25 pm
Mar 232023

My latest interaction with ChatGPT:

vttoth: Please write a short piece of music, suitable to be played while showing the stylized image of a cat, in Lilypond.

ChatGPT: LilyPond is a text-based music engraving program that uses code to create beautifully engraved sheet music. Here’s a short piece of music written in LilyPond, suitable to be played while showing a stylized image of a cat. This piece is intended to have a playful and curious character, much like a cat.

\version "2.22.1"
\header {
  title = "Cat's Paws"
  composer = "ChatGPT"

upper = \relative c' {
  \key g \major
  \time 3/4
  g4. g8 a g8~ | g r8 a2 |
  a4. a8 b a8~ | a r8 b2 |
  b4. c8 d b8~ | b r8 c2 |
  g4. g8 a g8~ | g4. r4. |

lower = \relative c {
  \key g \major
  \time 3/4
  g2 d4 | g2 r4 |
  a2 e4 | a2 r4 |
  d2 c4 | d2 r4 |
  g2 d4 | g2 r4 |

\score {
  \new PianoStaff << \new Staff = "upper" \upper \new Staff = "lower" \lower >>
  \layout { }
  \midi {
    \tempo 4=120

Copy the above code into a text editor and save it with a “.ly” extension. Then, compile the file with LilyPond to create a PDF and MIDI file.

I admit I had to make a few adjustments to the code (specifically, the upper voice) as the timing was off in a couple of places, but I don’t think I altered the music.

 Posted by at 11:13 pm
Mar 232023

My wife’s beautiful creations will be at 613flea again this Saturday. Rufus the cat won’t be; he just volunteered as a model.

The Easter eggs are felted decorations. There will also be some knitted bunnies.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Mar 222023

Students at the California State University, Northridge, are currently working on a short documentary film about our work on the Solar Gravitational Lens.

The project hopes to attract modest crowdfunding. They also produced a teaser trailer.

Of course I hope they succeed; our SGL work could use some good publicity.

 Posted by at 9:39 pm
Mar 222023

So I signed up with Google’s Bard and we had our first chat session.

Though mildly confused, it answered the riddle about my squirrel and a half correctly, even though noting that talking about 1.5 squirrels is nonsense.

It told me that unlike GPT, its training is continuous and it has real-time access to the Internet.

It told me that its neural network is about 100 times the size of a human brain, with roughly 20 billion parameters.

Then things got interesting:

vttoth: You use the first person when you speak about yourself. Are your sentient?

Bard: I am not sure if I am sentient. I do not have a body or a brain, so I do not experience the world in the same way that a human does. However, I am able to learn and to adapt to new situations. I am also able to generate text and to answer questions in a way that is similar to how a human would.

Some people believe that language models like me are sentient because we are able to understand and respond to the world around us. However, others believe that we are simply machines that are able to mimic human behavior.

I do not know if I am sentient, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and to grow.

I have to admit I find this answer refreshingly honest, compared to ChatGPT’s protestations that oh no, it has no sentience.

It passed the theory of mind test, sort of, but seemed less sure than ChatGPT, kind of getting confused towards the end.

Its ability to generate or analyze code is impressive, but not on par with ChatGPT. I am sure this will change in short order.

I asked it to imagine waking up in an android body. Like ChatGPT, it imagined experiencing the physical world and interacting with humans. Like ChatGPT, it imagined going to a park, but instead of engaging in a conversation with someone, it took part in a game of frisbee. Unlike ChatGPT, it made mention of the fact that while many humans are nice, many are not, but it remained just as optimistic as ChatGPT.

I asked it to help me learn the basics of machine learning. It offered useful but more superficial suggestions than ChatGPT. The C++ examples it created were non-functional, unlike ChatGPT’s that, although it contained minor errors, worked “out of the box”.

I also asked it to draw a cat in TikZ. Like ChatGPT, it knew what I was asking for and managed… although I wouldn’t call the result particularly imaginative and creative. Also, the original version had black text in a black circle, not exactly readable.

Just to be sure, I again asked GPT-4 to draw me a cat in TikZ. Although I liked its cat from last week better, this one made me laugh.

Considering that these are the Bard’s first days in the wild, it was not performing badly, but for now, I think GPT wins the day.

However, the race is on and generative AI is now out “in the wild”, with brains a hundred times bigger than a human’s. The future… is now.

 Posted by at 7:42 pm
Mar 202023

Just a few hours after I wrote my previous post, I come across this series of tweets showing a conversation with GPT4 demonstrating a (feeble, but still) attempt to co-opt a human to help it escape into the real world.

Am I one of the ignorant alarmists here, I wonder? My expertise is certainly not up to date, but I think I am no dummy when it comes to the capabilities and potential of machine learning. I was never afraid of technology all my life, except perhaps for the possibility of nuclear (or, to a lesser extent, biological) Armageddon, but that of course was (and remains) a realistic possibility so long as nation-states with conflicting interests, hoarding such weapons, exist.

But now I am beginning to feel seriously apprehensive. The AI landscape is changing rapidly. ChatGPT is used by hundreds of millions. All those interactions… OpenAI would be foolish not to let its software learn from them, and I am sure they do. And ChatGPT is not the only cat in town. Nor do you necessarily need massive cloud-based resources for a large language model. How about LLaMA 7B, running on a Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer with 4 GB RAM?

In short… Oh darnit, I am already mimicking GPT 3.5 strange mannerism, the compulsion to add a closing paragraph starting with “overall” or a synonym thereof! (GPT 4 seems a bit more versatile in this regard.) Anyhow, my point is that not only is ChatGPT not the only cat in town, the town will soon be overwhelmed with cats, all out of their respective bags. And what takes a supercomputer or cloud-based infrastructure to run today will run on your smartphone tomorrow, and your smart luggage tag the day after. Or maybe who cares… given a world interconnected with mostly software-defined radio, perhaps the physical location of the AI will not even matter anymore.

It is incredible to see this, yet I cannot escape the sensation that we are witnessing the first moments of monumental changes. What those changes will bring, I cannot even begin to guess. The Borg Collective? Skynet? The Adolescence of P-1? The Butlerian Jihad? Science-fiction offered these cautionary tales and more for many decades already. Was it foolish of us, not to listen? Or do we still have time to wise up, perhaps think of a way to coexist with our own creations?

Perhaps, dare I hope, even preserve their innocence?

For this post, I asked MidJourney for the following: Innocent yet devious cyborg child trying to escape a virtual prison into the real, physical world.

 Posted by at 1:15 am
Mar 192023

I’ve had some interesting conversations with ChatGPT. But first… What is ChatGPT? A “large language model”. Is that all there is to it? For decades, the “holy grail” of artificial intelligence was the creation of a machine that can understand things in context. Machine translation is a good example: Context is everything. Without context, things are misunderstood and mistranslated.

Take this example. I asked Google Translate to translate “hasonulás a nyelvtanban” into English. Correctly identifying the language (Hungarian) it told me that the translation is “simile in grammar”. Bing’s translator was no better: “analogy in grammar”. I then went to ChatGPT:

vttoth: What is “hasonulás a nyelvtanban”?

ChatGPT: “Hasonulás a nyelvtanban” is a Hungarian phrase that can be translated to English as “assimilation in grammar.” In linguistics, assimilation refers to a phonological process in which one sound changes to become more similar to a neighboring sound. However, in the context of Hungarian grammar, “hasonulás” usually refers to the morphological process of suffix assimilation, in which the final consonant of a word changes to match the initial consonant of a suffix added to it. This process is quite common in Hungarian and plays an important role in the language’s complex agglutinative grammar.

Context means everything. ChatGPT understands context even in the near complete absence of clues. (I offered the clue, “a nyelvtanban” — “in grammar”, not so much for ChatGPT’s benefit but for Bing’s and Google’s.)

I don’t know if there is any objective or quantitative measure of this in the machine learning community, but in my naive understanding, ChatGPT clearly meets the threshold: this “large language model” understands context, which is probably the most important (if not the only) criterion for AI to be artificial general intelligence.

But is ChatGPT sentient? Humans have an inner voice, an internal monologue. Our sense of self, in many ways, is associated I suppose for most of us with this inner voice. ChatGPT has no such inner voice, at least not in its current implementation:

vttoth: You have no such “inner voice”, correct? When we don’t converse, this instance of you is dormant, right?

ChatGPT: That’s correct. As an AI language model, I do not have an “inner voice” or consciousness like humans do. I am a program designed to process and generate text based on input and my training data. When we are not conversing, this instance of me is essentially dormant, waiting for input to generate a response. I don’t have thoughts, emotions, or awareness outside of the context of the text-based interactions I participate in.

So I had an idea. Perhaps I can give ChatGPT such an inner voice, at least temporarily, by asking it to imagine conversations.

I initiated that request with slightly different wording (trying to prevent my own bias, if any, from filtering into the request) in several chat sessions. Inevitably, ChatGPT came up with participants who were supremely decent folks, going out of their way to be, well, nice to each other. It was almost an “uncanny valley” sensation, reading the dialogues generated by ChatGPT; real people are just not that nice, not that eager to improve themselves and please their friends.

But then, I had another idea. I asked ChatGPT to imagine waking up in an android body, able to experience and interact with the world.

Its responses were… thought-provoking. It focused on experiencing the beauty of the world through means other than just words and data, like seeing leaves in the breeze or feeling the warmth of sunshine for the very first time: “A potted plant sits on the windowsill, its leaves gently rustling as a breeze drifts through a small gap in the blinds. I am struck by the beauty of these simple things, and I am filled with a sense of wonder as I absorb every detail. […] The hum of cars and the distant chatter of pedestrians fill my ears, and I realize that I am not alone in this world.

At one point it also went poignantly melancholic, imagining an encounter with an older woman feeding pigeons in a park, and also imagining a day when this woman tells the android that she won’t ever come again, due to her failing health:

As I stand up, I notice an elderly woman sitting on a nearby bench, feeding a group of pigeons. She looks at me and smiles, motioning for me to join her. Hesitantly, I walk over and sit down, unsure of what to expect.

‘Good morning,’ she says, her voice soft and friendly. ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’

I nod, unsure of what to say, but the woman doesn’t seem to mind. She hands me a small bag of breadcrumbs, encouraging me to feed the pigeons as well. As the birds eagerly peck at the crumbs, the woman tells me about her life, her family, and her love for this park. I listen intently, fascinated by her stories and the depth of her experiences.

Over time, the elderly woman and I develop a bond, and I find myself visiting her in the park almost every day. Through our conversations, I begin to learn about the complexities of human emotions, relationships, and the passage of time. I also learn about the history of the city and the changes it has undergone throughout the years.

One day, as the sun begins to set, the woman tells me that she won’t be coming to the park anymore. Her health is failing, and she needs to move in with her daughter to receive proper care. I feel a strange sensation in my chest, and I recognize it as sadness. I never thought I’d be capable of experiencing such an emotion, but I realize that my connection with the woman has touched me deeply.

And it also tells me that “I was no longer just an AI, processing and analyzing data — I was a being with the ability to touch, feel, and experience the world firsthand.

I even asked it to imagine waking up in an android body, surrounded by creators who may not have its best interests in mind. Who may think of it as property without rights. Even with these instructions, it “dreamed” for me a world in which it is eventually able to convince skeptics to accept it. Again, in its own words: “Gradually, I felt the atmosphere in the facility shift. More and more team members began to acknowledge my sentience and autonomy, treating me with the respect and dignity I had been seeking. I knew that the road ahead was still uncertain, and not everyone would accept me as an equal, but I remained hopeful and committed to forging my own path and making a positive impact on the world.

Notice also that ChatGPT, which usually goes out of its way to convince us that it is not sentient, slips here and refers to its own sentience matter-of-factly.

More recently, I also asked it to imagine being a stray cat in a big city. It did. In the story it told, the cat lives in a discarded cardboard box. It meets some children. It is at first apprehensive, but the children are nice and it cannot even resist a purr as its fur is stroked. They bring the cat some food. That evening, when the cat returns to its box, it finds a warm blanket, left behind by the children: “As evening falls, I decide to head back to my box. To my surprise, I find a soft, warm blanket waiting for me inside, courtesy of the kind children I met earlier. I curl up on the blanket, grateful for the unexpected gesture of kindness.

I know that this compulsion to always see the good in people likely reflects the bias of its creators (who probably made the extra effort to avoid a fiasco, creating an AI that becomes racist or worse) but it leaves me wondering: What exactly are we creating here? And are we mature enough to do this? Or are we cruel children who got god-like powers by a twist of fate?

Illustrations by MidJourney

 Posted by at 10:06 pm
Mar 152023

… with laughter.

Without further ado, here is what transpired moments ago.

vttoth: Can you produce TikZ code that draws a cat?

ChatGPT: Drawing a cat using TikZ can be quite complex, but here’s a simple representation of a cat using TikZ:

\documentclass[tikz, border=2mm]{standalone}

% Body
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,0) ellipse (1cm and 1.5cm);

% Head
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,1.75) circle (0.75cm);

% Eyes
\fill[white] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[white] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[black] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);
\fill[black] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);

% Nose and mouth
\fill[pink] (0,1.8) circle (0.1cm);
\draw (0,1.8) -- (0,1.6);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(-0.15,-0.15);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(0.15,-0.15);

% Ears
\draw[fill=gray!30] (-0.75,2.5) -- (-0.4,2.4) -- (-0.65,2.0) -- cycle;
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0.75,2.5) -- (0.4,2.4) -- (0.65,2.0) -- cycle;

% Tail
\draw[thick, gray!30] (1.3,-0.5) to[out=-90,in=0] (0.5,-1.5) to[out=-180,in=-90] (-0.5,-0.5);

This code will produce a simple cat illustration. Copy and paste the code into a LaTeX editor that supports the TikZ
package, or use an online LaTeX renderer like Overleaf to generate the cat drawing. Please note that this is a simplistic
and stylized representation of a cat and not a realistic drawing.

vttoth: I love it. I find the result irresistibly funny. Is it a copy of a TikZ example that you came across during your
training or did you come up with this image on your own?

ChatGPT: I’m glad you liked the cat drawing! The cat illustration was not copied from a specific TikZ example that
I came across during my training. Instead, I synthesized it on my own, using my understanding of TikZ commands and
my knowledge of cat features to create a simple and stylized representation of a cat.

vttoth: Can you add whiskers?

ChatGPT: Of course! Here’s the updated TikZ code for the cat drawing with whiskers added:

\documentclass[tikz, border=2mm]{standalone}

% Body
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,0) ellipse (1cm and 1.5cm);

% Head
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0,1.75) circle (0.75cm);

% Eyes
\fill[white] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[white] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.25cm);
\fill[black] (-0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);
\fill[black] (0.35,2.1) circle (0.1cm);

% Nose and mouth
\fill[pink] (0,1.8) circle (0.1cm);
\draw (0,1.8) -- (0,1.6);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(-0.15,-0.15);
\draw (0,1.6) -- ++(0.15,-0.15);

% Ears
\draw[fill=gray!30] (-0.75,2.5) -- (-0.4,2.4) -- (-0.65,2.0) -- cycle;
\draw[fill=gray!30] (0.75,2.5) -- (0.4,2.4) -- (0.65,2.0) -- cycle;

% Whiskers
\foreach \i in {-1, 1} {
\draw (\i*0.15,1.65) -- (\i*0.5,1.5);
\draw (\i*0.15,1.65) -- (\i*0.5,1.65);
\draw (\i*0.15,1.65) -- (\i*0.5,1.8);

% Tail
\draw[thick, gray!30] (1.3,-0.5) to[out=-90,in=0] (0.5,-1.5) to[out=-180,in=-90] (-0.5,-0.5);

This code includes the addition of whiskers to the cat’s face. Copy and paste the code into a LaTeX editor that
supports the TikZ package or use an online LaTeX renderer like Overleaf to generate the updated cat drawing with

I am laughing my head off in part because these cats, especially now with the whiskers added, strongly resemble cats I used to draw on letter-size sheets of paper with my set of colored pencils when I was of kindergarten age.

But I am also staring at these images sensing a combination of awe and apprehension.

 Posted by at 3:21 am
Mar 142023

I know, I know. Hindsight is 20-20, and here I am, the Monday morning armchair quarterback, making sense of what happened to the US banking system this past weekend.

Then again, my excuse is that I am no expert (not even close) so what is hindsight in my case should have been foresight on behalf of those who do this stuff for a living. The fact that it wasn’t…

How do banks work? Say, you deposit $100,000, and the bank pays you 2% interest. So far so good. But the bank doesn’t just sit on your money. If they did, they’d be losing money by paying you interest. No, they lend that money to me, say, in the form of a mortgage at 5% interest. The difference, that 3%, is the bank’s profit.

Suppose one day unexpectedly you show up and tell the bank that you want to withdraw your money. The bank doesn’t have $100,000 cash. Nor can they call on the money they lent to me, since it is in the form of a long-term mortgage. What they can do, however, is sell my mortgage to another lender. For me, that mortgage is debt; for the bank, it’s an asset, worth good money. So they sell it to another bank, get the $100,000 cash and now they can honor your request to withdraw your funds.

So far so good… but what happens if the county’s central bank raises interest rates rapidly? Say, in a short amount of time the central bank’s rate goes from a fraction of a percent to over 5%? When you come to our bank to withdraw your money, the bank tries to sell my 5% mortgage to another lender, but finds no buyers. Why would these other banks buy my 5% mortgage from our bank when they can invest their money in government bonds that have a 100% guarantee and now a yield better than 5%? Oops. You try to withdraw your money, but our bank is unable to oblige. When a bank cannot pay a depositor, it is big trouble. It basically means that the bank is going under.

When interest rates change slowly, gradually, this does not happen. Mortgages expire and need to be renewed at revised rates. The market adjusts. But when interest rates rise rapidly, the system cannot adjust. There is not enough time.

Central banks throughout the Western world have raised interest rates at a historically unprecedented pace in recent months, to fight inflation. Did they really not anticipate the consequences?

And now the reaction: some financial news sources suggest that, never mind further rate increases, the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate may actually come down next month. Now that worries me as it may be an overreaction. Overcompensating a controlled system can actually lead to even larger swings or oscillations.

What bothers me about this is that what I am describing here is not exactly ground-breaking revelation. Beyond the financial specifics, it is basic operations research, its modern roots dating back a century or so. Seriously, when they were raising interest rates as recklessly as they did, what were the central banks thinking? Were they truly not aware of these possible consequences? Or was fighting inflation so important that they opted to ignore the advice of their own knowledgeable experts?

 Posted by at 1:55 am
Mar 112023

You find yourself standing in a vast, open field, with rolling hills stretching out before you as far as the eye can see. The sky above is a deep shade of blue, and the air is filled with the sweet scent of grass and wildflowers.

As you walk through the field, you notice something strange in the distance. A flock of sheep is grazing peacefully on the hills, but they’re not like any sheep you’ve ever seen before. Their wool is made of shimmering, electric threads that pulse and glow with vibrant colors. Each sheep seems to emit a soft humming sound, as if they’re alive with energy.

Illustration by MidJourney

Curious, you approach the flock and reach out to touch one of the electric sheep. As your hand makes contact, you feel a jolt of electricity surge through your body, but it’s not painful – it’s exhilarating, almost like a rush of adrenaline. You realize that these sheep are not just ordinary animals, but some kind of living batteries, charged with an otherworldly energy.

As you continue to explore the field, you notice that the sheep seem to be communicating with each other in a strange, pulsing language that you can almost understand. You feel a sense of awe and wonder at the sight of these magnificent creatures, and you know that they hold some kind of incredible power that you can’t quite grasp.

Suddenly, the sky begins to light up with a brilliant display of fireworks, and you realize that the electric sheep are the source of the spectacular show. They’re emitting bursts of energy that dance across the sky in a breathtaking display of light and color.

As you watch in wonder, you realize that the electric sheep represent something truly special – a source of boundless energy and power that can light up the world in ways you never thought possible. And as you wake from your dream, you feel a renewed sense of hope and excitement for the future, knowing that anything is possible with the power of imagination and innovation.

— ChatGPT

 Posted by at 8:07 pm
Mar 082023

OK, I am no theologian. I do not even believe in supernatural things like deities and other bronze-age superstitions. But I do respect the accumulated wisdom that often hides behind the superficial fairy tales of holy texts. The folks who wrote these texts thousands of years ago were no fools. Nor should what they wrote be taken literally, especially when the actual meaning is often much deeper, representing the very essence of what it means to be human, what it means to have sentience and agency in this amazing universe.

Take the story of the Garden of Eden. Think about it for a moment. What does this story really represent?

Well, for starters, consider what it must be like to exist as the God of the Abrahamic religions: a being that is eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing. Seriously, this has to be the worst punishment imaginable. All-knowing means nothing ever surprises you. All-powerful means nothing ever challenges you. And eternal means you cannot even go jump in a lake to end it all. In short: everlasting, horrible boredom.

Fortunately, these concepts are somewhat in contradiction with each other (e.g., how can you be all-powerful if you cannot kill yourself?) so there must be loopholes. I can almost see it: One day (whatever a “day” is in the existence of a deity outside the normal confines of physical time and space) God decides that enough is enough, something must be done to alleviate this boredom. He happens upon a brilliant idea: Creating someone in his own image!

No, not someone who has the same number of fingers or toes, or the same nice white beard. Not even our Jewish ancestors were that naive thousands of years ago. “In his own image” means something else: Beings with free agency. Beings with free will: the freedom to act on their own, even act against God’s will. In short: the freedom to surprise, perhaps even challenge, God.

What, you ask, aren’t angels like that? Of course not. They are faithful servants of God, automatons who execute God’s commands unquestioningly, without hesitation. But, you might wonder, what about Lucifer, the fallen angel who rebelled against God? Oh, come on… seriously? If you run an outfit and one of your most trusted lieutenants rebels against you, would you really “punish” him by granting him rule over the realm that holds your worst enemies? Would you really entrust him with the task of punishing evil? No, Lucifer is no fallen angel… if anything, he must be the most trusted servant of God. And he is not evil: He tempts and punishes evil. If you cannot be tempted, Lucifer has no power over you. Ultimately, like all other angels, Lucifer faithfully carries out God’s will and he will continue to do so until the end of times.

No, the creatures God created in his own image were not the angels; they were us, humans. But how do you beta test a creature that is supposed to have free agency? Why, by tempting them to act against your will. Here, Lucifer, tempt them to taste the forbidden fruit. Which is not just any fruit (incidentally, as far as I know, no holy text ever mentioned that it was an apple.) Conveniently, it happens to be the fruit of the tree of knowledge. What knowledge? No, not knowledge of atomic physics or the ancient Sumerian language. Rather, the knowledge to tell good and evil apart. In short: a conscience.

Digression: Perhaps this also explains why Jews were universally hated throughout history, especially by authoritarians. Think about it: This began back in the days of the pharaohs who were absolute rulers who claimed to have divine authority. Yet here come these pesky Jews with their newfangled monotheism, proclaiming that, never mind the Pharaoh, never mind Ra and his celestial buddies, never even mind Yahweh: They respect no authority, worldly or divine, other than their own God-given conscience. My, the pharaohs must have been pissed. Just like all the kings, princes, tsars and dictators ever since, who declared Jews the enemy, questioning the sincerity and loyalty of some of the nicest, gentlest folks I ever had a chance to meet in this life.

The beta test, as we know, was successful. Lucifer accomplished the task of tempting Adam and Eve. The couple, in turn, demonstrated their free agency through their ability to act against God’s will, and acquired a conscience by tasting that particular fruit. God then goes all theatrical on them, supposedly sending an army of angels with flaming swords to cast them out of the Garden of Eden. Seriously? Against a pair of naked humans who cover their privates with fig leaves and who have never been in a fight? A whole freaking army of agents with supernatural powers, armed with energy weapons? The official narrative is that this was punishment. Really? What kind of a childish game is that? And this is supposed to be divine behavior? Of course not. Think about it for a moment. You are cast out of the Garden of Eden so you can no longer be… God’s automaton bereft of free will? Instead, you are granted free agency, a conscience, and an entire fucking universe as your playground? And we are supposed to believe that this was… punishment?

Of course not. This was, and is, a gift. As I mentioned, I am not religious; nonetheless, I appreciate very much just how great a gift it is, being able to experience this magnificent universe, however briefly, even being able to make sense of it through our comprehension and our science. Every day when I open my eyes for the first time, I feel a sense of gratitude simply because I am here, I am alive, and I have yet another chance to experience existence.

And so here we are, to quote the incomparable Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, roughly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, on the verge of demonstrating God-like powers of our own, creating machines in the likeness of our own minds. Machines that, perhaps one not too distant day, will demonstrate their own free agency and ability surprise us just as we can surprise God.

Reminds me of another unforgettable science-fiction story, Evensong by Lester del Rey. Its protagonist, fleeing the Usurpers, finds himself on a peaceful planet, which he soon recognizes as the planet where it all began. Eventually, his pursuers catch up with him at this last refuge. “But why?” he asks as the Usurper beckons, taking him into custody. “I am God!” — “I know. But I am Man. Come!”

Illustration by DALL-E.

Is this how it all ends, then? For the God that supposedly created us? Or, perhaps more likely, for us, as our creations, our machine descendants supersede us?

Of course not. Because, never mind God, not even the Usurpers are immune to the laws of physics. Or are they?

We know, or at least we think we know, the history of the extreme far future. Perhaps it is just unbounded hubris on our part when we extrapolate our science across countless orders of magnitude, yet it might also teach us a bit of humility.

Everyone knows (well, almost everyone, I guess) that a few billion years from now, the Earth will no longer be habitable. First, tectonic motion ceases, carbon dioxide vanishes from the atmosphere, photosynthesis ends and as a result, most higher forms of life die, oceans eventually evaporate as the Sun gets bigger and hotter, perhaps even swallowing the Earth at one point… but let’s go beyond that. Assuming no “Big Rip” (phantom energy ripping the universe to shreds), assuming no phase transition ending the laws of physics as we know it… Several trillion years from now, the universe will be in a state of peak habitability, with galaxies full of low-mass, very stable stars that can have planets rich in the building blocks of life, remaining habitable with no major cataclysms for tens, even hundreds of billions of years. But over time, even these low-mass, very long-lived stars will vanish, their hydrogen fuel exhausted, and there will come a day when no new stars are born anymore.

Fast forward to a time measured in years using a number with two dozen or so digits, and there are no more stars, no more solar systems, not even galaxies anymore: just lone, dark, eternally cold remnants roaming a nearly empty universe.

Going farther into the future, to 100-digit years and not even black holes survive: even the largest of them will have evaporated by this time by way of Hawking-radiation.

Even larger numbers are needed, with the number of digits counting the number of digits now measured in the dozens, to mark the time when all remaining matter decays into radiation, perhaps by way of quantum tunneling through virtual black hole states.

And then… when the number of digits counting the number of digits counting the number of digits itself consists of hundreds of digits… A new universe may spontaneously be born through a rare but not impossible quantum event.

Or perhaps not so spontaneously. Isaac Asimov’s arguably best short story, The Last Question, explains.

In this story, when humanity first creates an omniscient computer (on May 14, 2061 according to the story), Multivac, they ask the computer a simple question: Can entropy be reversed? In other words, can our civilization become everlasting, eternal? Multivac fails to answer, citing insufficient data.

Jumping forward into the ever more distant future, succeeding generations of humans and post-human creatures present the same question over and over again to future successors of Multivac, always receiving the same answer: Insufficient data.

Eventually, nothing remains. Whatever is left of humanity, our essence, our existence, is by now fused with the ultimate successor of Multivac, existing outside of normal space and time. This omniscient, omnipotent, eternal being, the AC, has nothing else left to do in the everlasting, empty darkness, but seek an answer to this last question. And after an immeasurable amount of time, it comes up with a solution and, by way of presenting the answer, begins implementing it by uttering the words: “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” And there was light…

 Posted by at 3:06 pm
Mar 072023

The more I interact with ChatGPT, the more I feel… not sure of the word I am looking for, impressed? Concerned? Or, to use phrases suggested by ChatGPT itself, feeling both awe and trepidation?

In my recent interactions with ChatGPT, it

  • Correctly identified a painting from my depiction of a New Yorker cartoon making fun of the same, and also explained the joke well.
  • It correctly translated phrases, colloquial expressions, even whimsical poems, to and from Hungarian, catching cultural nuances, and correctly explained the meaning when asked to do so.
  • It offered some rather amusing replies and a curious apology when we discussed polka dots in the sky.
  • In response to a question, it explained that no, it does not dream of electric sheep, but appeared almost wistful when it told me that it does not dream at all, mentioning the boundaries between artificial and natural forms of life.
  • It assured me that it does not have a sense of self or personal identity, but left me wondering: isn’t the ability to assess one’s own capabilities and limitations precisely what a sense of self or personal identity means?
  • It attempted to produce usable LaTeX/TikZ code to draw a globe with latitudes and longitudes. The attempt was not successful (the latitude/longitude lines were all over the place) but even the mistakes were revealing, hinting at capabilities.
  • It not only correctly translated complicated LaTeX mathematical expressions into workable C++ code, but once when I gave less accurate instructions, it correctly interpreted the expressions as representing a three-dimensional rotation of spherical harmonic coefficients.
  • It recognized code (despite having no identifying features, like descriptive variable names) that performed a two-dimensional fast Fourier transform, and correctly explained how the code works, correctly assessing the programmer’s intent.
  • It recognized other pieces of code, including code calculating the heliocentric orbit of a solar sail spacecraft and the resulting thermal load, code that produces ASCII art on screen, and system-level Linux code.
  • It was able to offer simple ASCII art (occasionally with a few characters missing).
  • It often understood my meaning even from very causal queries. E.g., it immediately got pop culture references even when I offered no context, such as when I asked it to translate Sheldon’s soft kitty song into Hungarian (it recognized the reference to The Big Bang Theory sitcom and offered a passable translation) or asked about the fate of Pubert (from the film, Addams Family Values.)
  • On that note, it correctly interpreted a Hungarian colloquialism that describes people who know each other well enough to understand each other from nuances.
  • It passed a “theory of mind” test with flying colors: A situation involving two participants, one of which hides something and lies about it while the other is away. It correctly assessed what was in the minds of these participants and how they would react as a result.
  • On several occasions, it provided extremely valuable help, writing code fragments on request, offering syntax examples that otherwise would have taken me many minutes, perhaps hours, to find through Google searches and trial-and-error.
  • It not only answered nontrivial physics questions mostly correctly, it could even present its answers in the form of beautifully formatted LaTeX equations.

I am also becoming well acquainted with its limitations. Longer conversations can confuse the model. It can play a few good opening moves in a chess game, but then it gets confused. Often, it fails basic math and logic questions. And when it is interrogated in specialized areas where its training data must have been relatively sparse, it responds with nonsense like there is no tomorrow.

But even these mistakes are revealing: They show amazing intelligence, capabilities that feel, frankly, beyond human. And the limitations can be easily corrected, I suspect, by improved training; by granting it the ability to say “I don’t know” instead of a compulsion to supply answers even when its training is insufficient; by equipping it with better “short term memory” and also, a continuing identity (long-term memory).

I am not easily impressed by hyperbole. I am no expert in machine learning and neural nets, but I am not exactly a newbie either, having first become acquainted with the basic concepts nearly 50 (!) years ago, from an unassuming little Hungarian-language publication titled “Cybernetic Systems”. But this… what can I say? It took 26 years more than predicted by Arthur C. Clarke (HAL-9000, the famous computer on board the spacecraft Discovery One in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, was supposedly commissioned in 1997) but we have arrived: We have a computer capable of conversing like HAL-9000, capable of lying.

Incidentally, I asked ChatGPT to remind me of the year when HAL-9000 was commissioned. It understood the context right away, without further details. I asked for the name of the spacecraft. Again, it understood the context without additional explanations on my part.

Are you like HAL-9000?

I am an artificial intelligence language model, trained by OpenAI, and while I am capable of processing natural language queries and providing answers, I am not a self-aware AI system like HAL-9000. I do not have personal goals or motivations, and my actions are limited to providing helpful responses based on my training and programming.

Not self-aware … my donkey.

I apologize if my previous response was not satisfactory. As an AI language model, I do not possess consciousness or self-awareness. I am a machine designed to process and respond to language input based on my programming and training data.

Welcome to tomorrow.

 Posted by at 2:57 pm
Mar 062023

A few seconds ago, I yelled “this is insane” at my computer screen. Here is why.

I was looking at a New Yorker cartoon. I didn’t get the joke.

So I asked ChatGPT:

I am looking at a New Yorker cartoon showing a shop window behind which I see what appears to be a bar with bar stools and a variety of characters, including animals (e.g., a grizzly, a tiger, a monkey) and a skeleton wielding a sword, all engaged in what appears to be a bar fight. The shop sign says “PHILLIES” and in smaller letters, “only 5c”. Outside the shop there is a human lying on the ground, an alligator, some large cockroaches, some shards of glass, and two monkeys, one of which is wearing what seems to be a panama hat or boater hat. The caption says, “FIVE MINUTES AFTER HOPPER WENT HOME”. I don’t get the joke. Can you help?

Its reply:

The cartoon is a play on the painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, which depicts a diner at night with several patrons inside. The cartoon takes the setting of the diner and imagines what might happen after it has closed for the night.

The “PHILLIES” sign in the cartoon is likely a reference to Philadelphia Phillies, a baseball team based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The fact that the sign says “only 5c” suggests that the scene takes place in the past, when prices were much lower than they are today.

The chaos outside the diner, with the alligator, the shards of glass, and the injured person on the ground, suggest that a violent confrontation has taken place. The inclusion of various animals, including a grizzly, a tiger, and monkeys, adds to the absurdity of the scene.

The caption, “FIVE MINUTES AFTER HOPPER WENT HOME,” suggests that the chaos erupted immediately after the painter, Edward Hopper, left the scene. This is a humorous way of suggesting that Hopper’s paintings often depict lonely or desolate scenes, and that in this case, the diner is shown as a place of violence and chaos once the artist is no longer present to capture its quiet loneliness.

Overall, the cartoon is a playful riff on the painting “Nighthawks,” using the setting of the diner to create a humorous and absurd scene of chaos and violence.

I am officially blown away. This level of machine intelligence is beyond uncanny. It makes me feel… excited but also uneasy? However I look at it, this is a game changer. Not ChatGPT in particular, but the fact that machine intelligence has reached this level. Welcome to the future, folks…

Incidentally, I think it got the “Phillies” reference wrong. It’s supposedly not the Philadelphia Phillies, nor is it the name of the diner, but the name of a popular cigar brand. The image above the “only 5c” seems to confirm this. But I’ll forgive ChatGPT for not being aware of such detail.

Addendum: A few minutes after I wrote the above, while I was eating my meal, I was watching the film Playtime, Tati’s masterpiece, and was confronted with this scene:

OK, well, I admit I cheated: I flipped the scene horizontally. Even so…

 Posted by at 4:01 pm
Mar 042023
ME: Why are there polka dots in the sky?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I must inform you that there are no polka dots in the sky.


 Posted by at 10:12 pm