1773 ChatGPT and me

ChatGPT and me
by Larry Hannant

*

Larry Hannant

The media today is agog with artificial intelligence and its boundless possibilities to expand mere mortals’ striving towards perfection, or to relegate them to the scrap heap. The intensity quickened on March 14, with the release by OpenAI of version 4 of ChatGPT.

In a thoughtful Globe and Mail article just two weeks later, Ian Brown assessed the new program and found it remarkably adept in the task of writing an appeal to his wife and the wife of a friend to allow the two bros to play a round of golf during the couples’ holiday in Hawaii.

Intrigued, my partner assigned ChatGPT (Generative Pre-training Transformer) to write a synopsis of an issue in medical standards. She judged it to have some merit.

I remained sceptical, based in part on concern for academics, my pre-retirement career. If ChatGTP could write students’ essays for them, couldn’t it just as well write their professors’ lectures – even replace teachers entirely?

ChatGPT logo

Still, I decided to give the wunderkind a whirl. Nothing too challenging, I decided. A simple biography of a minor academic who’s written a few books, had some brushes with notoriety in his radical youth and, augmenting his online presence, has written reviews and articles for the British Columbia Review. You guessed it, me.

Making things easier for the ChatBot, I have a name that’s not common. In the early 1990s, after my name appeared in Canada’s History, a man from Chicago contacted me to report that the entire city phone book contained just one listing for Hannant. And Larry is a given name whose popularity crested quite a few decades ago. In short, the supply of people named Larry Hannant is extremely limited (matched only by the apparent lack of demand).

So this was the assignment I gave the world-conquering bot-savant. “In 1000 words write the biography of Larry Hannant.”

And voilà! Before my rapidly-waning attention span had a chance to flit to what to make for dinner, a message crossed the screen.

Hello there! I’m an AI assistant and I’m here to help.

I should immediately have picked up on ChatGPT’s eerie reprise of the worn phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Larry Hannant is a Canadian entrepreneur and innovator who has been at the forefront of the technology industry for over two decades. He is the founder and CEO of Hannant Technologies, a leading provider of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions.

Larry was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. His father was a successful businessman and his mother was a teacher. From an early age, Larry was exposed to the world of business and technology, and he quickly developed a passion for both.

At the age of 18, Larry enrolled in the University of British Columbia, where he studied computer science and engineering.

Cartoon by Clay Bennett, courtesy The Chattanooga Times Free Press, February 21, 2023

Astounding! I must admit that I didn’t know of this namesake, so unlike me in his business acumen and technological genius.

But from an admittedly-human internet search, I could find no reference to any Larry Hannant in Vancouver. Nor his thriving corporation Hannant Technologies. Was ChatGPT possibly confusing it with Roger Hannant Motor Services & Collision Repair in Norfolk, UK?

In any case, ChatGPT’s Larry Hannant clearly was not me. I decided that owing to my obviously-limited human capacity, I had simply framed the question too generally. I took another crack at it. “In 1000 words, write the biography of Larry Dale Hannant.”

Again, the response was immediate and definitive.

Larry Dale Hannant is a Canadian entrepreneur and innovator who has been at the forefront of the technology industry for over two decades. He is the founder and CEO of Hannant Technologies, a leading provider of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions.

Wow, two sets of parents with the same lack of imagination in naming babies!

Then I got even more specific, asking it to write the biography of Larry Dale Hannant, born in Calgary in 1950.

Larry Dale Hannant is a Canadian entrepreneur and innovator who was born in Calgary, Alberta in 1950. He is the founder and CEO of Hannant Technologies, a leading provider of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions.

Apparently, I’d grown up in a family of entrepreneurs and had attended the University of Calgary, majoring in computer science and engineering.

I was learning a lot about my own life that I hadn’t previously known.

How about a different approach? “In 1000 words write the biography of Larry Dale Hannant, Marxist-Leninist.”

I was looking forward to seeing what my AI assistant could tease out of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service files that I’ve never been able to obtain using the highly-misnamed Access to Information Act. Here’s what it came up with.

Larry Dale Hannant is a Canadian Marxist-Leninist activist and theorist. He is a prominent figure in the Canadian left, and has been a major influence on the development of Marxist-Leninist thought in Canada.

Larry was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and grew up in a working-class family. From an early age, he was exposed to the ideas of socialism and communism, and he quickly developed a passion for the cause.

At the age of 18, Larry enrolled in the University of British Columbia, where he studied political science and economics. During his studies, he became increasingly interested in Marxist-Leninist theory and began to develop his own ideas.

After graduating, Larry became an active member of the Canadian left, participating in a variety of political activities and organizations. He was a founding member of the Canadian Marxist-Leninist Party, and was a key figure in the development of the party’s ideology.

It is true that I grew up in a poor family, although in Calgary. But “exposed to the ideas of socialism and communism” at an early age? That would produce a howl of protest from my mother, if she had not been freed of all earthly and cyber torments more than a decade back. She had turned me on to politics in the early 1960s by parking me in front of CBC TV to watch a Progressive Conservative Party convention. (By some miracle both my interest in politics and I survived.)

The rest of the new biography was equally fanciful.

I should add that ChatGPT does warn the user that there are “limitations” to its capacities. Specifically: “May occasionally generate incorrect information.” No kidding!

It’s tempting to dismiss the AI assistant as a neophyte writing fiction whose humour appears to be entirely inadvertent.

Yet my sceptical self broods on a disturbing possibility. Could ChatGPT actually have a playful imagination that was toying with my ego – to make me both a successful tech entrepreneur and the founder of the Marxist-Leninist Party.

While I parse the various biographies, I’m not discounting the AI peril. I know the bots are sucking up more dis and data by the second, and heaven knows that every day I’m forgetting more of what little historical comprehension I could impart to my students ten years ago.

So I welcome the latest appeal by critical AI brains – actual humans like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak – to introduce a bot-break while we figure out how to avoid being bullied by this emerging Frankenstein.

Meantime, I do hope that the highly successful Vancouver tech entrepreneur will seek out his little-known doppelganger and share some long-lost family stories.

*

Larry Dale Hannant (born 1950)

Larry Hannant is the author of All My Politics Are Poetry (Victoria: Yalla Press, 2019, reviewed here by Natalie Lang). His most recent book is an edited collection titled Bucking Conservatism: Alternative Stories of Alberta in the 1960s and 1970s (Athabasca University Press, 2021). Hannant taught aspects of human rights history for years at BC universities and colleges and is engaged in writing an anti-imperialist history of human rights. Editor’s note: Larry Hannant has recently  reviewed books by David SpanerPitman PotterSuchetana ChattopadhyayEve LazarusChristabelle Sethna & Steve Hewitt, and Kate Bird for The British Columbia Review, and he has contributed two previous essays, I’m not your man: Norman Bethune & women, and Letter from Victoria. He lives in Victoria.

*

The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

3 comments on “1773 ChatGPT and me

    1. As a successful tech entrepreneur myself, I’d like to join the “Marxist-Leninist Party” as soon as it’s established :>

      The interesting thing, of course, is not that it’s inaccurate, but why it is inaccurate. Where did this “entrepreneur” thing come from, for example. Are you holding out on us, Larry?

      Jon Bartlett

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This