DALL-e generated image of an ai created cleantechnology silly technology, digital art

In The Age Of ChatGPT, What Is Reality, & Does It Matter To Cleantech?

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Bear with me. Part of who I am is an English Lit major, which means I occasionally read stuff that isn’t The Expanse or Game of Thrones. Right now, it’s Meet Us by the Roaring Sea, a novel by Akil Kumarasamy that includes trauma, a fictional (I assume) translation of a Tamil medical student female cult during the Sri Lankan Civil war, memory drugs, and artificial intelligence. It’s densely overpacked with themes and experiences and emotions. Remarkably, my English Lit background probably had nothing to do with why I had lunch with Margaret Atwood, famous (again) for The Handmaid’s Tale, a couple of times. (That was my cleantech nerdy chops.)

Remember, bear with me. The Tamil sub-story had me wondering about referenced Tamil poetry. And so I went digging. And found this:

என் இதயத்தில் மறைந்து விழும் ஆசை,

வானில் மின்னும் விண்மீன் போல தொலைவில் உள்ளது.

அது உள்ளது என்று தெரிகின்றது,

ஆனால் தொடா முடியாது,

அதை தொடுவது பொழுது பொழுது மழையின் மீது பனியைப் போல.

காற்றின் கையில் அது ஆடுகின்றது,

மேகங்களின் மறைவில் அது திரிகின்றது.

இரவில் மறந்து போன கனவு போல,

அது உள்ளது என்று தெரிகின்றது,

ஆனால் தொலைவில் மிகுந்து விடுகின்றது.

என் தேடல் முடிவில்லாதே தொடர்கின்றது,

இருளின் ஆழத்தில், பெயல் பொதுவது.

வெளிச்சத்தை விட்டு ஓடும் நிழல் போல,

அதன் இருப்பு எனக்கு எப்போதும் புரியும்.

மழை பின் வானவில் மின்னும் இருவரும் போல,

எண்ணத்தில் மட்டுமே மின்னும் ஆசை.

அது உள்ளது என்று தெரிகின்ற

Kaviyach Selvan, born in the 5th Century in the prosperous Chola Empire, was a renowned Tamil poet known for his exquisite verses that beautifully blend the ordinary with the profound. From a young age, Selvan showed a deep inclination towards literature and the arts, finding solace and joy in the rhythm and cadence of words.

His poems, which often revolved around human emotions, nature, and philosophy, resonated deeply with the common people, earning him widespread fame and recognition. Though he belonged to a time when epics and grandeur were the norms in literature, Selvan chose to focus on the subtleties of everyday life, thereby giving a unique touch to his poetic expressions.

Despite his fame, Selvan led a life of simplicity and humility. He believed that poetry was a divine gift that enabled him to understand and reflect upon life’s experiences. He was known to have said, “Our emotions and desires are as elusive as the moon’s reflection in water, but in their pursuit, we discover life’s essence.”

Selvan’s works continue to be celebrated for their timeless relevance, their ability to touch upon the depths of human emotions, and their nuanced depiction of life’s complexities. His legacy lives on in the verses that still speak to the heart, centuries after they were first penned.

As a Tamil literature scholar said:

“In Kaviyach Selvan’s evocative poem, The Search for the Unattainable Desire, we see a quintessential representation of 5th-century Tamil poetry’s depth and the lyricism that characterizes much of the Sangam literature of the period. This poem, thematically centered around the elusive nature of desire, is a sublime expression of the interior emotional landscape, a common exploration in Tamil poetic tradition.

“The poem utilizes natural and celestial imagery, a hallmark of ancient Tamil literature, to articulate the intangible, elusive desire. Comparisons to a distant star, snowflakes, the wind, clouds, and even a moon journey are not just metaphorical devices, but also demonstrate Selvan’s adeptness in capturing the interplay between human emotions and the natural world, an integral aspect of the Tamil aesthetic tradition.

“In the context of its historical period, the poem reflects a time when poetry was not just a form of entertainment but also a medium for philosophical and emotional introspection. The abstract concept of desire is grounded in everyday experiences and tangible phenomena, a feature that makes this piece an excellent example of the introspective and contemplative qualities of Tamil poetry during the 5th century.”

Except that everything from the first Tamil language word to this sentence was made up by ChatGPT.

I’m breaking CleanTechnica’s very reasonable — and foregrounded with owners and management by me as something they had to make a decision on — policy against articles written with ChatGPT with the above, but it’s explicitly being stated as being from ChatGPT, so like the very ironic ban on ChatGPT in the biggest machine learning conference’s submissions that have the same requirement and exemption, I hope that it passes muster.

What does this have to do with cleantech?

I’ve just invented, with the help of a large language model, a fictional fifth century Tamil literary lion, a historically consistent and significant poem by him and a biography. I could, with little effort, create multiple articles about the poet and a source-supported Wikipedia entry. The Sokal Hoax is now possible on a massive scale by random people with too much time on their hands.

Will this matter in cleantech investing? Will people use machine learning for evil? Will con artists create ever more elaborate scams that suck in more and more money? Will something change?

Sure, to the middle question, con artists will milk this tech. But we live in an age where billions of market capitalization on press darlings disappear. All ChatGPT does is lower the bar for establishing the baseline story for the nonsense tech.

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Let’s review some examples that pre-date ChatGPT.

How about airborne wind energy? Did it have any likelihood of being viable against sticks and blades sitting on the ground? Not really. Platypuses, not cheetahs. But that didn’t prevent NASA folks from spending way too much time on the subject. That didn’t prevent University of Delft from creating a flock of wantrepreneurs. That didn’t prevent Google from buying Makani, which failed due to multiple relatively obvious issues. It certainly didn’t prevent Uber from funding the pre-eminent NASA guy to fail miserably at creating a business around it.

How about raising cement blocks with cranes? Did it have any likelihood of being viable against pushing water uphill or batteries that just sit there? No, it was dumb as a box of lemon-flavored hammers with handles made of toothpicks. Tiny amounts of energy, massive structural absurdities, massive carbon debt per returned kWh.

How about ‘patented’ perpetual motion hydrogen? Did pretending to break the first two laws of thermodynamics prevent Joi Scientific from having patents accepted, getting offices in a NASA building (hmmm, there it is again), or convincing the New Brunswick utility to scrape together C$23 million to fund the founders’ lifestyles?

How about one of Peter Thiel’s acolytes ‘disrupting’ the grid with carbon fiber compressed air storage? Did a complete misreading of the application of disruptive innovation to electricity, a mediocre idea, and a natural market antithetical to clean energy prevent Danielle Fong from raising millions to create a bad natural gas storage solution and then fail? Yeah, no.

What about origami electric aircraft with no market to speak of? Did having no market, no valuable intellectual capital, and not even an understanding of the basics of the industry they were entering prevent almost $30 billion from being thrown at founders? Sadly, no again.

How about hydrogen for energy? Does the 0.6% of peak market capitalization of Plug Power, the 3% of peak market capitalization of Ballard, or the absurd hydrogen for energy hype currently underway have anything to do with ChatGPT? No, of course not. Without any help from the absurdly competent, remarkable, and often fascinatingly wrong truthiness of ChatGPT, people have been hyping nonsense and reaping millions or billions forever. It’s hard to see how ChatGPT could possibly make it worse.

Yes, ChatGPT makes it much easier to create credible nonsense that’s still relatively easily debunked. So pay attention to provenance. Pay attention to technology, business model, and marketing red flags. Look for the positive indicators that help to understand why electricity is the future for all energy.

Chat GPT is astonishing, absurdly useful, and a wonderful addition to our toolkit. But look out for bad actors using it to create truthy BS. They will do it, and it won’t be (hopefully) beautiful Tamil poetry. But don’t blame ChatGPT for some humans being venal con artists or deluded fabulists, and don’t blame it for other people buying into the nonsense.

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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast (https://shorturl.at/tuEF5) , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team.

Michael Barnard has 747 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Barnard