Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture

Archives

Okay, Never Mind. Sam Altman Returns to OpenAI

The OpenAI CEO is back after a brief absence.
Last week, we reported on Sam Altman’s firing from OpenAI and his consequent relocation to Microsoft. At the time it all seemed like a done deal. The board of directors at OpenAI agreed to oust Altman, and days later, the former ex-CEO was offered the opportunity to head up Microsoft’s AI development. That’s all changed now. After an intense corporate battle, Altman is back at OpenAI. The former board of directors at OpenAI ridded Altman on the basis of his apparent lack of candidness in his communication, and they refused to comment on the matter further. However, Altman is back at the helm and with a new board of directors. It’s been a busy weekend. Much of the details on his firing remain unclear, but dozens of OpenAI employees threatened to quit

Beauty is Non-Computable

Taking some time to reflect on the beautiful things in the world can lead to genuine thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? Family, friends, a good job? Perhaps having a stable home, a good car, or a rich church community? Those are all wonderful things to reflect on and be thankful for during this season, and throughout the year, but what about the beauty of the natural world? Do we take enough time to pause and marvel at the wonder and intricacy of nature? In addition, who might we have to thank for such beauty? Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, wrote a book this year called Beauty is Your Destiny in which he calls readers to attend to creation with eyes of wonder. He also notes that many scientists, far from reducing the natural world to the product of chance, have been astounded the beauty of nature. Ryken writes, Some of the strongest

Sam Altman Out at OpenAI, Microsoft Picks Him Up

Will Microsoft become the prime leader in the AI movement, and what will be the future of OpenAI?
The CEO and founder of OpenAI, the tech company responsible for creating ChatGPT, was fired by the company’s board last week in a surprising turn of events. The former executive’s dramatic firing was followed by rumors of his potential rejoining OpenAI, but that’s a false hope. Microsoft hired Altman after his failed attempt to retake control of OpenAI over the weekend. Altman will reportedly head up artificial intelligence efforts at Microsoft, according to CNN. Krystal Hur reports, Microsoft stock reached a record high on Monday after the company said that Sam Altman, former chief executive of OpenAI, will join the company to head its artificial intelligence innovation leg. Shares of the tech behemoth hit $377.10 on Monday morning before

Planet of the Apes and Human Exceptionalism

This movie franchise makes us wonder what makes human beings unique.
One semi-random movie franchise I’ve been a massive fan of is the newest iteration of The Planet of the Apes. The original trilogy, directed by Matt Reeves (The Batman) concluded in 2017, but a “fourth” film is set to release on Memorial Day of 2024, and a trailer for it dropped this week. I’m starting to become somewhat “anti-trailer” given that more often than not they tend to either distort the hype of the film or give away the story entirely. But in the cases of movies I’m most excited about, I confess that generally I give the trailer a quick view. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is set years after Caesar, the founder of the ape colony in the original trilogy, has died, and the remaining human beings on Earth are a minority.

Jacques Maritain on the Human Person

A philosopher on two competing views of human beings: are we mere bodies or embodied souls?
At the end of the day, a lot of the AI enthusiasm among the technological “futurists” like Ray Kurzweil is based on certain assumptions of what a human being fundamentally is. Casey Luskin reported on Kurzweil’s lecture at the recent COSM 2023 conference, noting how he is convinced that AI is humanity’s destiny, and will serve as our functional “God figure,” all-knowing, self-determining, sentient. Kurzweil sees the human person in purely scientific terms: if we can achieve a certain level of technological advancement, we will transcend our limits and take the next step of human evolution. Technology will be our religion, the means to our immortality. Jacques Maritain, a French philosopher, shared helpful thoughts about the human person in his

Reading in the Digital Age

Writer Joseph Epstein argues compellingly on behalf of the novel.
How has the Internet affected the way we read? How many people in your life read novels and serious works of nonfiction on a regular basis? Even for avid readers, the online world is a constant and appetizing distraction. News clips, fiery journalism, and endless reels of photos, memes, and videos are at the average American’s easy disposal 24/7. Is reading deeply, then, outdated? Or even worse: is it even possible anymore? True, these are not easy times to advocate for the reading life, but books still sell despite the primacy of Internet reading, and perhaps now more than ever, our digitalized brains need good novels. Why the Novel? Joseph Epstein, an essayist and longtime professor at Northwestern University, wrote a book this year in defense of the novel, calling it

Is This a Moral Reckoning? 41 States Sue Meta for Knowingly Addicting Young Users

The lawsuit claims that Meta's platforms are harming its young users. The data backs it up.
Let the lawsuit begin. Dozens of states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against Meta, the tech giant responsible for Instagram and Facebook, for misleading the public about the addictive dangers of its social media platforms. The states, 41 in total, allege that Meta’s products are purposefully addictive and are harming users, particularly kids. Karissa Bell reports, A central claim of the lawsuit is that Meta’s business model depends on holding the attention of young users on Facebook and Instagram, even at the expense of their wellbeing. “Meta designed and deployed harmful and psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended Platform use, while falsely assuring the public that its features were safe and suitable

Homogeneity via Instagram and the Internet

Spending too much time online shapes our personality and outlook perhaps more than we'd like to admit.
This is a good read going into the weekend: an article on how social media, particularly Instagram, tends to homogenize the personalities of those who use it. Freya India begins the article by recognizing how image-based media and the influencer lifestyle have changed the way people, young women in particular, choose to present themselves. She calls it “Instagram face,” writing, It’s that face made up of sculpted cheekbones, big lips, fox eyes and a deep tan; a chimera of sexy, supermodel features. It’s not a natural face. It’s cartoonish, assembled artificially through cosmetics, filters, editing apps and even surgeries, as if girls are endlessly chasing the beauty ideal of their childhoods: an IMVU avatar, or a Bratz doll. Something perfect, inanimate,

Trying to Solve Social Media’s Problems Through…More Social Media

Alternative social media apps still have to figure out ways to keep you scrolling.
Last month a friend invited me to download a new photography app called “Lapse.” Perhaps you’ve already heard of it and downloaded it yourself. I decided to try it and see what all the fuss was about. The app’s opening screen was dramatic, with captions about the failures of previous social media apps to truly “capture” the present moment. The business model of social media apps, the Lapsers rightly contend, revolves around “likes” and gaining “friends.” What happened to taking pictures of real, human moments without minding the social reward they might reap? Photo-taking was about holding on to moments that mattered. It wasn’t about filters, validation, or identity. Lapse promises to be different. It’s a disposable camera on your iPhone. The pictures you take

Two Notable Reads: Children and Tech and the Illusions of Photography

How much should kids be online? And is taking pictures taking us out of real life?
For this week’s reading on all things technology, I came across a couple over the weekend that were incredibly interesting and insightful. For starters, there’s a new article out now via the Institute for Family Studies on toddlers and technology use. In summation of a study they conducted, Jane Shawcroft writes, 1. Sometimes it takes a while to reap the rewards of guiding children’s technology use. Children like TV. They like tablets. They are usually upset when you say “no” and don’t let them watch another episode of Paw Patrol or play games on your smartphone. It can be hard in the moment. But remember that research suggests there are some significant payouts down the road. Standing your ground on media rules might be difficult when

Zero K: A Novel About Escaping the World Through Technology

Zero K by novelist Don DeLillo is a frightening but prophetic tale of transhumanism and the temptation to evade suffering at all costs.
Novelist Don DeLillo is perhaps best known for his book White Noise, a story about a professor and his family in Ohio and the repercussions of a toxic waste spill that serves as a metaphor for so much of modern American life and its dangers. The book was adapted into a film starring Adam Driver and eerily preceded the literal toxic spill that occurred near East Palestine, OH on February 3rd earlier this year. Like the characters in White Noise, nearby residents had to flee the area following the catastrophe. Little did I know that DeLillo authored a much newer book called Zero K, a dark, brooding novel about a billionaire, Ross Lockhart, who wants to put his mortally ill wife into cryosleep until life-enhancing technologies are developed and can be used to “bring her back to

The Kids Aren’t Taking Notes

Colleges have become too dependent on digital methods of learning and communication.
Visit a typical classroom in the United States and you’re bound to see just about every student “taking notes” behind a computer screen as the professor lectures at the helm. This was certainly the case when I was in college, and although I always preferred to take handwritten notes, it was distracting (and sadly illuminating) when virtually every other student had their screens atop the desks. You might think most were opting for the computer for a faster method of note-taking, but alas, I saw everything from The Office to last night’s sports scores blinking all over the room, affirming that laptops in the classroom are radical distractors. Enter COVID-19 and the domination of online courses, and students started spending copious amounts of time online,

So AI is “Slightly Conscious” Now?

The AI optimists can't get away from the problem of consciousness.
The idea that artificial intelligence could ever become actually “intelligent” is a minority view, but it’s espoused by some brilliant minds, including Jason Lemoine, an ex-Google employee who claimed the company’s developing AI system was sentient. Lemoine isn’t alone. According to Futurism, OpenAI’s top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, claimed in a Tweet this week that “large neural networks are slightly conscious.” Noor Al-Sibai writes, He’s long been preoccupied with artificial general intelligence, or AGI, which would refer to AI that operates at a human or superhuman level. During his appearance in the AI documentary “iHuman,” for instance, he even declared that that AGIs will “solve all the problems that

New Poll Says Most People Don’t Want “Super AI”

Not all problems can be solved through tech
Despite tech companies’ search to create an artificial “super-intelligence,” a recent poll suggests ordinary citizens want no such thing to be set loose into the world. Sigal Samuel, writing for Vox, talks about technological “solutionism, ” the idea that all the world’s problems, moral or otherwise, can be solved through mere technological progress. This ideology, he notes, extends to the current craze and hype surrounding AI. Sigal writes, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) enthusiasts promise that the coming superintelligence will bring radical improvements. It could develop everything from cures for diseases to better clean energy technologies. It could turbocharge productivity, leading to windfall profits that may alleviate

Getting Beyond “Technique” When it Comes to Mental Health

A new book by Dr. Alan Noble on the value of choice, responsibility, and the inherent goodness of life.
Jacques Ellul used the word “technique” to describe the mechanism befalling our modern society. When there’s a problem, we want the solution. When something isn’t fast enough, add the gears, the software updates, the weight loss pills, the trip to McDonald’s, etc. But suppose that mentality has seeped into the discourse surrounding mental health? Is there a quick-fix solution to debilitating depression and anxiety? Is there a pill for just that general sense of sadness and emptiness? Alan Noble is an Associate Professor at Oklahoma Baptist University and the author of a new book called On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden & Gift of Living. In it, Dr. Noble recognizes how a technique mindset is insufficient in addressing the wide range of mental

Why You Should Read More Fiction

The mental benefits for reading good stories are many.
When looking for “solutions” to today’s mental health crisis in the United States, particularly among the millions of men who are checking out of society, reading fiction may not immediately come to mind. However, a new article from Psychology Today argues that reading fiction is “essential” for today’s men. The author of the article, psychologist Jett Stone, focuses on men in part because today’s literary market is largely geared towards women, and fiction and femininity are often closely associated. Nonetheless, he believes that reading fiction can benefit both women and men. He writes, Recent research indicates that reading fiction fosters critical thinking by presenting ideas subtly and in more roundabout ways than nonfiction.

AI as Refashioned Religion

How AI fits into the transhumanist utopian dream, and where that dream might have come from
AI's greatest threat may not be its sophistication, but our own over-reliance on it. As a technology, it has its uses and benefits. As a religion, it fails.

Another Non-Computable Trait: Spiritual Longing

You can't program spiritual longing into a computer, not matter how savvy the algorithm.
Why do we feel the drive to make some overarching sense of our lives? You can't program spiritual longing into a computer, not matter how savvy the algorithm.

Oliver Anthony, Music, and Human Exceptionalism

Honest music speaks to the heart and brings us closer together.
If you’ve been online at all for the last few weeks, chances are you’ve come across headlines about the folk/country singer Oliver Anthony, whose song “Rich Men North of Richmond” went viral in August. The song, a broad critique of elite power in Washington D.C., (Democrat and Republican) has gained both applause and fierce critique, but for the most part, seems to have deeply resonated with the general American public. Psychologist Jordan B. Peterson recently had Anthony on his podcast, discussing music, entrepreneurship, and virality. One thing is clear about Anthony’s songs: they’re honest, and people are attracted to that. Peterson noted in their conversation that authenticity is a sign of brilliance in artists, and how that sort of honesty

Cal Newport: Overstimulation Is Ruining Your Life

Turns out the solution is simple: don't use things that overstimulate you.
"Don't use things that cause overstimulation," Newport says. "The dopamine system is powerful, so don't give it the targets it's going to fire up for."