David Heinemeier Hansson

December 5, 2022

More creative than mere humans

ChatGPT is blowing minds left and right including mine. It's placed a second dot on what appears as an exponential curve of AI competency, following the huge leaps in creative image generation already made this year. So it's our nature to imagine – or dread! – where the next dot will land, and what perhaps the not-so-distant future will hold for humanity. But remember: Nobody Knows Anything!

That doesn't mean it can't be fun to speculate, though. I think that's why ChatGPT is capturing so much imagination right now. Because the canvas for painting possible futures is incredible wide right now. Things that seemed far-fetched in 2021 suddenly appear soon-to-be plausible as we close out 2022.

Mix in a few other data points, like San Francisco authorizing lethal law enforcement robots, Boston Dynamics' ever-more impressive humanoid robots, Elon's neuralink, consumer AR around the corner, and it's like we have all the ingredients for a Paul Verhoeven movie set in 2025. The line between the absurd and the plausible is blending fast.

On the specific consequences, Paul Graham posited the thought that if AI commoditizes mediocre writing, then the very best of human creativity will become even more valuable. Like handmade items standing out in contrast to the mass-produced after the advent of the Industrial Revolution. I like this observation, but even more if we flip the champion of the creativity contest.

Because why would we assume that AI won't actually be more creative than mere humans? AI chess and go competitors are in part so superior now because they're capable of wild leaps of ingenuity that stump human players. Moves that would never have been considered by a mere human because of their out-of-norm "thinking". In this domain, it's the humans executing mechanical moves based on memorized patterns, the computers making novel inferences.

Why shouldn't the same be true of AI generated novels, plays, or movies? What realm of creative production does not benefit from the out-of-the-norm inferences that computers have already proven they can make within the bounds of chess and go to great effect? Is what we call human creativity all that different from a large language model anyway? A distillation of observations, inputs, mimetic tendencies, and a wetware random generator?

It's incredibly exciting that we just might soon find out. And the revelation will go straight to the heart of the ageless discussion of what it means to be human. What is consciousness. What is creativity. To even be able to imagine a horizon where these questions are answered, not just within our life time, but within the next decade? Amazing moment to be alive.

As much as I like the collective enthusiasm and optimism, though, that this new dot on the AI curve is injecting into the public debate, I think it's worth remembering a few historical parallels. In the late 50s, the foremost thinkers in computer science thought we were just a few years away from general AI. In the 90s, it seemed like the virtual reality revolution was going to happen any minute. And in the mid 2010s, there was a brief euphoria amongst car manufacturers that fleets of robot taxis were imminently going to take over the industry. None of these things happened then or have happened yet. Why? BECAUSE NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

It's so hard for humans to predict the next epoch. So perhaps that's the next natural ste p for ChatGPT and its future AI brethren: Tell me, oh great AI oracle, what happens next?

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.