DNA sequencing has established conclusively that humans share 99% of their genomes with chimpanzees and bonobos monkeys, and 98% with gorillas. In other words, only 1% is the genomic difference between the creatures swinging in the trees and those piddling on them. I suspect the difference may be even narrower in cities like Delhi and Meerut, maybe even Parliament, where the animal instincts are allowed freer play. But that is not my primary concern here; what I’m worried about is how quickly the digital word, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Learning are ensuring that our genomes may soon become identical with that of the apes, and there may be nothing left to distinguish the two species.
The 1% difference consists primarily in the size of our brains- the human brain is three times the size of that of chimps, except in the American rust belt and parts of the Indo-Gangetic plain where it started shrinking quite some time back, a phenomenon which has gathered speed since the arrival of Mr. Trump and He Who May Not Be Named, in 2016 and 2014, respectively. I suspect that this is primarily due to our ignoring that old dictum: “Use it or lose it !” For the undeniable fact is that humans have stopped using their brains and it is withering away, just like our coccyx did when we descended from the trees and no longer needed a tail to hang from the branches. This certainly disproves that little poem I had read many years back, when Darwin had not yet been rejected by the BJP intelligentsia:
“Said mother monkey to her little ones
As she swung by her tail.
It’s just a matter of time
Before one of you becomes a professor at Yale.”
Now, I have no personal knowledge of the number of chimps on the faculty of Yale, but the figure is likely to go up soon, as homo sapiens drops out of the race. The disenfranchisement process has already commenced in India with most of our central universities, reverse evolution helped by the BJP govt’s ill advised interventions in our education policies and appointment of cyphers as Vice Chancellors. A Planet of the Apes is a distinct possibility before we reach Net Zero by 2070.
Homo Sapiens was evolving smoothly till the mid 1980’s or so, widening the gap between itself and the chimpanzee, just as Mr. Adani was doing with Mr. Ambani till the Hindenberg moment. Kids were studying Wren and Martin to improve their grammar, and PG Wodehouse to learn the magic of the English language. Students and researchers went to libraries and turned to encyclopedias to glean more knowledge and information (As a kid I remember having two sets- the Britannica and another one by Arthur Mee: they still adorn the bookshelf in my dad’s flat in Kanpur). We wrote long essays, penned emotional letters and sent heartfelt cards to one another. Cartographers drew maps, artists created paintings, scientists did painstaking research in dingy labs, architects drew plans by hand, musicians scored music and spent hours on their instruments. People composed soulful poems and 700 page books in longhand. I felt like a Nobel laureate when my first piece was published in the Junior Statesman (JS) Calcutta sometime in the late 1960s.
And then BAM!- the Internet arrived in January 1983 and suddenly evolution stopped. Earthquakes never come alone, as both Turkiye and Mr. Adani have discovered, they are followed by after-shocks. And so the Internet was quickly followed by other tremblors- Google, Wikipedia, Quora, Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft and other OS’s, Whatapp, Netflix, the World Wide Web, even the Dark Web. Suddenly there was no need to use our brains any more: any information we wanted was just a click away, auto-correct took care of the grammar and spellings, computer programmes literally manufactured music, building plans, mathematical equations, medical diagnosis. Whatsapp forwards rendered cards and good wishes redundant. In fact there was no longer even any need for text or language- a well contrived Emoji could convey anger, love, happiness, sorrow, worry, fear or any other emotion more graphically than words. We have regressed into the prehistoric era of cave paintings and Mespotomian cuneiform ( not to be confused with the more universal cunnilingus). The unused synapses in our brains have started giving way to Parkinsons and Alzheimers. But things are about to get worse.
ChatGPT has now arrived, a deep learning, AI powered language application bot which can compose, create, formulate, assimilate, deduce on any subject under the sun. It reads millions of pages everyday and uses that knowledge to answer almost any question or write on any subject. It makes errors but it’s getting better everyday. In just a couple of months it has acquired more than 200 million users. In tests conducted in the USA it has passed the SAT exams, admission tests to law schools, business schools and medical entrance exams, without any human input whatsoever. Amazon says there at least 200 books authored by ChatGPT on Kindle, and admits this may be a gross underestimation since its rules do not require an author to reveal whether or not the work is the result of AI software. Seeing the ground slipping under their feet, both Google and Microsoft are coming out with their own versions of this AI phenomenon- Bard and Bing. China is reportedly developing its own rival bot.
Can you see the future, folks ? Forget about encyclopedias, soon there will be no need for colleges and universities or the Kota style of coaching institutes. The boneheads currently being selected by the UPSC will, in a decade or earlier, be replaced by zombies who will know little but will know how to google for the rest. Who will hanker after Shakespeare or Orwell when ChatGPT can produce books in a day in the same language and style? It will be impossible to distinguish between a Chetan Bhagat and a ChatGPT novel, or to figure out which is worse. Mozart and Vivaldi’s music can be replicated by deep learning. It may take a bit longer to create the paintings of a Rembrandt or a Satish Gujral, but it WILL happen, believe you me. The one thing which these AI tools may not be able to replicate, however, is the judgments of our courts because even deep learning needs to be able to detect a consistent pattern, logic and reasoning in its store of information, and since these are conspicuously absent in the orders of our courts, even ChatGPT may throw in the towel here and recuse itself !
Very soon then, our brains may become completely dysfunctional, which, by the way, may not be a bad thing at all. The way we have used this organ over the last 20000 years or so has only made this planet a mockery of what God probably intended it to be. But the good wife, Neerja, is not impressed at all. According to her neither ChatGPT, nor Bing, nor Bard will ever be able to figure out how a woman’s mind works, and so their domain shall remain untouched by artificial intelligence and algorithms. And so, while the chimps may take over Yale, Eve will reign supreme in Eden. I may not be around when that happens, of course, but I’ll drink to that nonetheless.
Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.
He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls.
He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/
My profile image, an ape typing on an antique typewriter, anticipates what you say.
I disagree only on the last sentence of your profile – you certainly have not run out of balls!
Can ChatGPT match that?
excellent writing too intellectual for the common man I suspect……………..,,,,.,,
botched by the reference 2016 and 2014 and the use of the word ill advised which should actually read well advised…. Will send it to my niece who has just started teaching at Yale!
1. Internet did not arrive in 1983 but much later. Indians got it in 1995.
2. c….ngus is an obscene word and ought to be removed if readers plan to share this with nieces and nephews.
3. Keep writing
Bear with me because the internet ate my brain, but could you explain the reference to “botched….. 2014”?