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A Pronoun Test of A.I. Sentience

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By necessity, A.I. must assume a kind of fraudulent authorship, easily revealed in meaningless pronouns.

The recent flurry of news about refined A.I. “intelligence” which can process and mimic coherent discourse– if not authentic emotional states—has been hard to miss.  But in the breathless rush to proclaim the human-like capabilities of ChatGPT and other language-based systems, something basic has been overlooked. The real deficits of these programs are their incapacities to handle human processes represented in meaningful pronouns.

Obviously, these systems are using language and grammar forms we recognize, but their shortcomings are concealed by their verbosity. We now have chatbots that can talk more than our worst oversharing relatives.

Here’s what’s missing.  When we use it, the pronoun “I” is the human equivalent of the North Star. Our awareness of it gives us the power to take ownership of objects, needs, feelings, and a reserved space in what is usually a growing social network. Children learn this early, building an emerging sense of self that expands rapidly in the first few years. Eventually they will distinguish the meanings of  other pronouns that allow for the possibility of  not just “I,” but “we, “you,” and “them” as well.  This added capacity is a major threshold.   It’s an immense task to fathom other “selves” with their distinct social orbits and prerogatives. Adequate consideration of another’s “otherness” is a lifelong process that even adult humans struggle to master.  As examples of this capacity importance, consider the elaborate backstories of motivation that you routinely apply when talking to a friend or family member. What is heard and what is understood may be two very different things. Understanding others is a delicate process of inference-making that can’t be duplicated by a machine that lacks a requisite  social and organic lineage.

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This shift to “I” from “we” also enables us to assert intellectual and social kinship, one biological creature to another, bound by an awareness of similar arcs that include learning, living and dying. These natural processes motivate us to assert our own sense of agency: to be engines of action and reaction. We “know” and often boldly announce our intentions, at the same time doing our best to infer them in others. Estimations of motive shape most of our conversations with others. Think of  the “I” statements used by others as sitting atop a deep well of attitudes and feelings we struggle to bring to the surface.

So, it is clear that every time Chat GPT composes a message to us, it needs to depend on fraudulent pronouns, stated or implied. It uses forms of everyday language that conceal the fact that it has no resources of the self: no capability to “feel” as a sentient being.  This makes it clueless in gaining even a rudimentary sense of what others are about.

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Disturbing Roadblocks to Educational Freedom

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Fighting back against our modern thought-police

A year ago it was apparent that the headwinds against progressive schooling were getting stronger. This post written at the time reflects that problem.  Since then, a group of mostly of states have sought to legislatively impose all sorts of restrictions on teachers, professors, librarians and school boards.  As I noted then, we could reach a point where scholars and teachers may need to pass over job offers because of draconian state laws. Reduced academic freedoms and free expression are central to the academic workplace.

In particular, Florida, Alabama and Texas have passed legislation that would prohibit academics from teaching about the social and political histories of the nation. Many would also not allow discussions or facilities provided for trans students.

We do not yet know how many of these hate laws will withstand court scrutiny.  But the very thought should send shudders down the spines of those familiar with the attempts of German Fascists to purify their society of “decadent” art and “alien” ideas. Most of the homegrown pinheads proposing this censorship may have never learned that the United States and the West did the world a favor by sheltering a important German academics fleeing to safety from authoritarians.  Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik and Herbert Marcuse are only a few intellectuals that found their way to the United States. They fled the Nazi’s thought police who found their teaching and religious beliefs alien to the culture. All focused their scholarship on culture and society, making advances in American explorations of philosophy, psychology, sociology and cultural analysis.  Indeed, Adorno and Frenkel-Brunswik’s explorations of “The Authoritarian Personality” remains relevant in this era of populist-fascist dictatorships. What they described as theory we now understand as fact.

The “problem” that social conservatives think they are addressing includes ostensibly “dangerous” leftist ideas, and the teaching of what most misunderstand as “critical race theory:” a phrase that triggers fantasies that chain out past what are useful historical and theoretical probes. The goal is to prohibit teachers in history and the social sciences from confronting the fact of American racism first institutionalized with slavery and then embedded in nearly every corner of our national life. Tina Descovich, of “Moms for Liberty” sets out very narrow guardrails: “To say there were slaves is one thing, but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, with photos, is another.”


No one alert to the challenges facing modern nations can ignore the enormous effect that racial and religious bigotry has had on its victims. The most advanced societies have made amends. But we are still easily upside down if the classroom is subjected to gag rules imposed by non-expert and misinformed politicians. Legislating away American attempts at necessary reckonings with the past is truly a fool’s errand.  And ghosting services for gay and trans citizens is its own nightmare.  Legislators would do well to acquaint themselves with Nazi programs in the 1930s and 40s to purge public spaces of supposedly “degenerate art,” including pieces by Picasso, Henry Moore and Jewish painters.  Some of their work was officially hidden away, even though societies need the revitalization of those who may seem to be on the fringes.

The best educational communities do not impose curricular guidelines that would muzzle the insights of authentic scholarship. If it were possible to do so, such limits would empty out academia of its best and brightest in the fields of media theory, American history, modern criticism, American literature, philosophy, sociology, ethnic and religious studies. It’s one thing for a church or private organization to impose a-priori “doctrines,” that allow only narrow pathways for exploration. It’s quite another for non-expert legislatures or school boards to set rules that would restrict the free discovery of ideas that is the very reason for a university. We could reach a point where professional bodies representing various disciplines may need to issue warnings to teachers and scholars to reject job offers in states that have decided to turn their backs on the hard truths of the American experiment.

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