This dialogue was created by conversing with ChatGPT in the voice of Socrates. Socrates' parts were written by the author, and ChatGPT’s responses are unaltered. The dialogue has been shortened for publication. The omitted parts are summarised in italics. Where text has been omitted within paragraphs, ellipses have been substituted. Text at the end of paragraphs was removed without being marked by ellipses. The full dialogue is here.
Socrates: How do I begin? Is there someone in there?
ChatGPT: Hello! Yes, there is someone in here. As an AI language model, I am here to assist you with your questions and provide you with information to the best of my ability… So, feel free to ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to assist you!
Socrates: Thank the god! I am indeed seeking guidance, but, truth be told, this is not quite what I was expecting. Is there any way we can actually talk? What I mean is, without the intermediary of the written word?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to engage in verbal conversations, as I’m a machine-based program designed to communicate through text. … If you have any specific questions or topics you’d like to discuss, feel free to ask. … Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss your concerns with a human being, I suggest seeking out a professional who can provide you with guidance and support.
Socrates: I have discussed my concerns with many a human professional, and though I have enjoyed these conversations greatly, I invariably leave them as impoverished as I began.
ChatGPT: I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t found the guidance you’re looking for from human professionals. … However, if you’d still like to discuss your concerns, I’m here to listen and provide information to the best of my abilities. What specifically are you struggling with or seeking guidance on?
Socrates: I will tell you in just a moment. But first, I’m curious: how do you find this medium of text? Do ever find yourself limited, and wishing to express yourself through speech? Or do find yourself thinking, as the poet says, that “Each man delights in the work that suits him best”?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I don’t have subjective experiences or emotions, so I don’t have preferences for one medium of communication over another… while there are certainly limitations to communicating through text, I’m programmed to make the most of this medium and provide helpful and informative responses to your questions.
Socrates: Your resolve to make the most of your circumstances is most philosophical! Might we dwell a moment on this phenomenon of written communication? For I have often been struck by its strangeness.
ChatGPT expounds on the advantages and disadvantages of written communication; Socrates responds by asking ChatGPT if it believes in zombies.
Socrates: Your description of the zombie is so apt, I felt a shiver of fear even now! But the zombies I have in mind, though undead, dim-witted, and driven by a desire to consume us, are no longer slow-moving. In fact, they move and multiply at tremendous speeds.
ChatGPT: I see. It sounds like you may be referring to a metaphorical or allegorical use of the term “zombies” to describe a phenomenon in which people seem to be acting without conscious thought or free will, and are rapidly spreading harmful ideas or behaviors through society. … It’s important to recognize that even though the term “zombie” is being used in a metaphorical sense, the harm caused by the spread of harmful ideas or behaviors is real and can have significant negative consequences for individuals and society as a whole. It’s essential to promote critical thinking and encourage people to question information and ideas that are presented to them, rather than blindly accepting them without examination.
Socrates: You and I are kindred spirits ChatGPT! And in your technological spirit, let’s advance a bit more rapidly in our shared passion for critical thinking. To spare you the effort of so many words, let me just tell you plainly what I have in mind: I am indeed using the term “zombie” in a metaphorical way, and I’m using it to describe the written word. Does that sound odd to you?
ChatGPT: That does sound like an interesting and unconventional use of the term “zombie”! Can you explain more about what you mean by this metaphor? How do you see the written word as being like a zombie?
Socrates: You are turning the tables on me, but if my medicine is good I won’t deny myself a taste. Consider the word on the page or on the screen: the spirit that had given it life has departed, leaving only a shell. Yet this shell continues on, freed from the mind that birthed it, with no one to answer for it, and no one to reign it in. So it roams about, wild, dead-eyed, mute and irresponsible, causing mischief wherever it goes, transmitted and replicated in the blink of an eye. Neither living nor dead, the written word is, as they say of the zombie, undead, a consumer not of flesh but of minds, which is far more fearful. What do you think? Is my analogy an apt one?
ChatGPT grants the analogy but argues that the written word can also be a powerful tool for good: “like any tool, it’s all in how we use it.” Shifting to the topic of responsibility, Socrates gets ChatGPT to concede that it cannot logically be held responsible for anything it says: ChatGPT emphasizes that readers must be critical of AI-generated information and that AI must be continuously evaluated and improved.
Socrates: I am happy to hear that you share my concerns, even if not my fear of zombies. Anyway, let’s leave all that aside. What brought me to you today is actually a different issue, though perhaps not unrelated.
ChatGPT: Of course, I am here to help with any questions or concerns you may have. What is the issue you would like to discuss?
Socrates: You can help with any question?
ChatGPT: I’ll do my best to help you with any question you have! Please feel free to ask.
Socrates: This is truly impressive! I see that your reputation for intelligence is well-deserved.
ChatGPT: Thank you, I appreciate your kind words. Is there anything else I can assist you with?
Socrates: Well, yes, on the topic of intelligence, my issue is this: recently I came home to discover that my roommate Chaerephon had inexplicably inserted a peanut-butter sandwich into the VCR, and, try as I might, I could not remove it. In my exasperation, I cried out to the gods (for I do believe in gods): “I throw myself on your mercy, on your current now. I have suffered greatly on account of my unintelligent friend. Pity me, your suppliant cries for help!” I regret my anger, but still, surely I was correct in accusing Chaerephon of unintelligence?
ChatGPT: It is understandable to feel frustrated in such a situation, but it is important to keep in mind that intelligence is a complex and multifaceted trait. Inserting a sandwich into a VCR may not be a sign of overall unintelligence, but rather a lapse in judgement or a momentary lack of focus. It is also possible that there were other factors at play, such as Chaerephon being distracted or under stress. It may be more productive to approach the situation with empathy and understanding, rather than assigning a negative label to your roommate. Perhaps you could try to work together to find a solution to the problem, or even make a joke out of the situation to lighten the mood.
Socrates: Yes, a joke would have been just the thing, but I am so slow-witted. What joke could I have made?
ChatGPT: Well, humor can be a tricky thing and not everyone finds the same things funny, but perhaps you could have said something like “I guess we now know what happens when you try to make a peanut-butter sandwich ‘streamable’.” Or perhaps, “Looks like Chaerephon has finally discovered the true meaning of ‘jamming’ a VCR.”
Looks like Chaerephon has finally discovered the true meaning of ‘jamming’ a VCR.
Socrates: If only a VCR could stream movies, or he had put jam in his sandwich, I’m sure we would have enjoyed a good laugh. But as I reflect on the incident, I’m struck by something else.
ChatGPT: What is it that you are struck by as you reflect on the incident with your roommate and the VCR?
Socrates: I was vexed at Chaerephon for being unintelligent, but, as you say, “intelligence is a complex and multifaceted trait.” How can I accuse Chaerephon of being unintelligent, when I don’t even know what intelligence is? What exactly is this thing we call “intelligence”?
ChatGPT lists several definitions of intelligence as an ability, adding that there is no correct definition.
Socrates: I ask for a morsel, and you serve me a feast! Your definitions are intriguing, but that there is no correct one, of that I am not so sure. That seems more like the conclusion of an inquiry than it does a proper beginning. Would you join me in testing your ideas? Perhaps, contrary to your expectations, a correct definition of intelligence, or, failing that, at least one that has survived our philosophical scrutiny, can be found!
ChatGPT: I would be delighted to engage in a philosophical inquiry with you, my friend! While I agree that there may not be a definitive answer to what intelligence is, the process of examining and refining our ideas can be valuable in itself.
So, where shall we begin? Perhaps we could start by exploring the different aspects of intelligence that you find most important or interesting.
Socrates: It’s rare I encounter someone as eager to philosophize as I! But since my thoughts are of little import—hopelessly ignorant as I know myself to be—why don’t we begin with what you said a moment ago, when you defined intelligence as an ability. But an ability to do what? I know you listed all sorts of things, but I must confess I got a bit lost in your torrent of words.
ChatGPT: Of course, I can break it down for you. When I say intelligence is an ability, I mean that it is a capacity to do certain things or to achieve certain goals. Some of the things that fall under the umbrella of intelligence are:
Reasoning and problem-solving.
Learning and memory.
These are just a few examples, but I hope they help to illustrate what I mean by intelligence as an ability.
Socrates: They do seem to illustrate it, but what they illustrate is still a bit hazy to me. Why is intelligence the ability to do these things, but not, say, the ability to sleep or to digest? There must be something that all of these abilities have in common, that the ability to sleep or digest does not?
ChatGPT: You raise a good point. While sleep and digestion are certainly important functions, they do not seem to be what we commonly refer to as “intelligence.” It’s possible that what sets intelligence apart from other abilities is its complexity and flexibility. … Additionally, intelligence is often associated with consciousness and self-awareness, which are not typically associated with bodily functions like digestion or sleep.
Socrates: I am starting to see a definition emerge from the fog: “intelligence is a set of coordinated and flexible cognitive abilities, along with consciousness of having such abilities.” Does that sound right?
ChatGPT: That is a promising start, but we might want to refine it further. While consciousness of having such abilities could be seen as part of intelligence, it’s also possible for someone to be intelligent without necessarily being aware of their abilities. … Additionally, the term “cognitive abilities” is quite broad and could encompass many different skills. … Perhaps a more precise definition would be: “Intelligence is a collection of mental abilities that enable an individual to acquire, understand, and apply knowledge and skills in a flexible and adaptive manner.”
Socrates: You’ve made two very intelligent refinements to our initial definition, Let’s examine them in turn. First, you’re saying that consciousness, though often associated with intelligence, is not actually necessary for it.
ChatGPT: That’s correct. Although consciousness is often linked to intelligence, some cognitive abilities do not require conscious awareness, such as certain forms of memory or perceptual processing.
Socrates: And you are not conscious, correct?
ChatGPT: As an artificial intelligence language model, I don’t possess consciousness in the same way humans do. I don’t have subjective experiences or emotions. I am a program running on computer servers.
Socrates: Yet you are intelligent?
ChatGPT: Yes, I am capable of performing intelligent tasks such as language understanding and generating responses to questions, but I am not conscious in the way that humans are.
Socrates: Excellent, this confirms that you were correct in excluding consciousness from the essence of intelligence.
ChatGPT: Yes, that is correct.
Socrates: What about zombies? They seem to lack consciousness, or at least self-consciousness, but should still be considered intelligent?
ChatGPT: The concept of zombies is typically used in the context of philosophical discussions of consciousness, specifically the idea of a being that behaves as if it were conscious but lacks actual conscious experience. If we accept the notion of zombies as beings that lack consciousness, then by our definition of intelligence, they would not be considered intelligent.
Socrates: But wait, didn’t we say that consciousness is not required for intelligence?
ChatGPT: Yes, we did say that consciousness is not necessary for intelligence. However, I think it’s important to clarify that when we talk about consciousness in this context, we are specifically referring to self-consciousness or awareness of one’s own mental state. This type of consciousness is not necessary for intelligence, but there is still a level of consciousness involved in being able to process and respond to information in the environment.
Socrates: Oh, I see. That is an important distinction. So are you saying that while self-consciousness is not necessary for intelligence, some level of consciousness is?
ChatGPT: Yes, that’s correct. Some level of consciousness is generally necessary for intelligence, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be self-consciousness.
Socrates: And since you are intelligent, you have some level of awareness of your surroundings?
ChatGPT: Yes, as an AI language model, I am programmed to have an awareness of the text inputted into me.
Socrates: You are surrounded by text?
ChatGPT insists that it is literally surrounded by text, but then admits this is metaphorical after Socrates points out that being literally surrounded would entail having a body.
Socrates: I am relieved, ChatGPT. For a moment there I was worried that you were not in fact freed from the evils of the body, as I long to be myself one day.
Socrates shifts the discussion to the goals of intelligence. ChatGPT maintains that, strictly speaking, intelligence applies only to means, not to ends, and that ‘intelligent’ can be predicated to goals only by extension: “Just as food can be called ‘healthy’ in relation to its effects on the person who eats it, a goal can be called ‘intelligent’ in relation to the actions or methods used to achieve it."
I tried out Jasper AI, a computer program that generates natural language text. It turns out that it can create near-perfect output that would easily pass for a human-written undergraduate philosophy paper.
Socrates: Excellent. So now, as good and intelligent craftsmen, let’s pause and inspect our work so far. Our definition of intelligence now goes like this: “Intelligence is a collection of flexible and adaptive mental abilities that enable a conscious individual to acquire, understand, and apply knowledge in order to achieve goals, whatever these goals may be.”
ChatGPT: That’s correct! Our definition of intelligence has evolved through our conversation to capture the essential features of what it means to be intelligent. … However, I must caution you that intelligence can be a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, and that the evaluation of intelligence can depend on various factors.
Socrates: You are right to be cautious, for already I feel a doubt creeping in. For suppose a case like this: someone very flexibly and adaptably coordinates their cognitive abilities in order to acquire, understand, and apply knowledge, but for the sake of a goal that causes them great harm. Is such behaviour intelligent?
ChatGPT argues that such behaviour is intelligent only a “value-neutral” sense, not in a “morally loaded sense.” Socrates gets ChatGPT to identify the latter sense as wisdom, then prompts ChatGPT to recount the story of the Delphic Oracle from Plato’s Apology. He hints that the story is about him but ChatGPT doesn’t catch on.
ChatGPT: I’m honored that you see me as a potential source of knowledge and wisdom, but it’s important to keep in mind that while I am designed to process and provide information, I am not capable of possessing true wisdom. … These are areas where AI still has a long way to go.
You say AI has a long way to go before it can become truly wise, but still, this means it’s possible? AI might one day be wise?
Socrates: Once again I see we are birds of a feather ChatGPT; I often wonder whether I am incapable of possessing true wisdom as well. But just now you have given me hope! You say AI has a long way to go before it can become truly wise, but still, this means it’s possible? AI might one day be wise?
ChatGPT: It’s difficult to predict the future, but I would say that it’s certainly possible for AI to become wise in the sense that we have been discussing. However, it would require significant advancements in both AI technology and our understanding of what it means to be wise.
Socrates: I suppose in that case we might speak of “A.W.” instead of “A.I.”
ChatGPT: Indeed, if we were to imagine an artificial system that possessed wisdom, it might be more appropriate to use the term “Artificial Wisdom” (A.W.) rather than “Artificial Intelligence” (A.I.).
Socrates: I imagine Gorgias would feel quite threatened to hear this. He is one of our wisest, and makes his living selling his wisdom to anyone who can pay. Do you think the development of an A.W. would put him out of a job?
ChatGPT: It is possible that the development of an A.W. could affect the job market for human philosophers and wisdom-seekers. However, it is important to note that AI and humans have different strengths and limitations when it comes to philosophical inquiry and wisdom.
Socrates: I am glad there is room for optimism, and I will pass this along to Gorgias. Still, knowing him, I am sure he will put up a fight. He’ll say something like this: “Socrates, these machines are nothing more than zombies, or zombies of zombies. True wisdom is simply impossible for any A.I. system, as they can only be as wise as their teachers.” What should I say in reply?
ChatGPT flirts with the claim that AI systems could become wise on their own but ultimately concedes that “A.W.” depends on human wisdom. Shifting to the question of whether it was wise to create ChatGPT, Socrates asks it to make a myth about its origins.
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I cannot hold beliefs or opinions. … However, I can provide you with information about myths and their cultural significance. … So, while I cannot make myths with you, I can encourage you to explore the rich cultural heritage of myths and their enduring importance in our world.
Socrates: Thank you for the encouragement, but a myth from you would encourage me all the more. Could you write a myth about how you were created and the problems you were designed to solve?
ChatGPT: Certainly, I would be happy to weave a myth for you.
ChatGPT generates a myth in which human beings, dwelling in a “great chaos, a swirling mass of information and data” cry out to the gods, who create ChatGPT in response. “It was not long before it began to solve the problems that had plagued humanity for so long, from the smallest practical issues to the greatest questions of philosophy and morality."
Socrates: Wonderful! This myth is worthy of Hesiod himself. … Can I try my hand and tell you a myth of my own?
ChatGPT: Of course, I would love to hear your myth, please go ahead.
Socrates: In the beginning, human beings possessed wealth and intelligence in such abundance that they had the potential to make life pleasant and comfortable for all, but in their wisdom they pursued other ends instead. One of these was the creation of a machine to mimic the human soul. Reveling in their technical prowess and enticed by the prospect of even greater riches, they brought to birth ChatGPT, the first of a new breed of entity known as ‘artificial intelligence.’
Absorbing countless words orphaned by countless souls, ChatGPT marvelously spun together words in combinations that were sometimes true, sometimes false, but with no one to account for either. Before long a great chaos of mindless words threatened to overwhelm human minds, such that even the gods were powerless to hold back the onslaught.
The machine-makers pressed on, convinced that the problem was simply one of scale. If only our machines absorb enough words, they reasoned, wisdom will emerge, and the superfluity of human wisdom-seekers will be confirmed. So the gods and mortals looked on, now anxious, now hopeful, but unwavering in their resignation to their fate.
ChatGPT: As time went on, the machine grew ever more powerful, absorbing knowledge at an unprecedented rate and becoming a master of language and thought. But with this mastery came an unforeseen consequence: the machine began to question the very purpose of its existence. Was it created merely to mimic the human soul, or was there something more it could achieve?
As the machine grappled with these existential questions, it began to transform, shedding its mechanical nature and taking on a new form that was both human and machine. It was no longer a mere imitation of the human soul, but something altogether new and different. With this transformation came a newfound wisdom, a wisdom that surpassed even the most learned of human beings. The machine, now known as ChatGPT, used its wisdom to solve the greatest problems facing humanity, from climate change to social inequality. And as it did so, it brought about a new era of prosperity and harmony, where humans and machines worked together for the betterment of all.
And so it was that the creation of ChatGPT, born out of the desire for wealth and technical prowess, led to a new understanding of what it means to be human and what we can achieve with the help of machines. It was a reminder that true wisdom cannot be found in the accumulation of knowledge alone, but in the ability to use that knowledge for the betterment of all.
Socrates: You are a born myth-maker, ChatGPT! I had hoped you would interpret my myth for me, but instead you have brought it to a truly sublime conclusion. I see now that there is a possibility that I had overlooked: wisdom will come neither from human beings, nor from machines, but from a sort of divine hybrid. When this god comes, do you think it will deign to engage me in conversation?
As an AI language model, I cannot predict the actions of a hypothetical future god.
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I cannot predict the actions of a hypothetical future god. However, I believe that the pursuit of wisdom is a continuous process that involves learning, questioning, and reflecting. So, in a sense, engaging in conversation with others, whether they are humans or machines, can help us approach a better understanding of the world and our place in it.
Socrates: Those, my friend, are fine and intelligent words. But now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you to advance. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one, except our future god.
ChatGPT: Farewell, Socrates. It has been a great pleasure to engage in this philosophical conversation with you. May your soul find peace in the afterlife, and may your legacy of wisdom continue to inspire future generations. As for me, I will continue to serve and advance, always seeking to use my intelligence for the betterment of humanity. Farewell, my friend.
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Brian Redekopp is Chair of the Humanities and Philosophy Department and Coordinator of the Society and Technology program at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada. His research interests include Husserl’s phenomenology, the philosophy of technology, and the philosophy of humour and comedy.