A consultation with ChatGPT

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By PAULO NOGUEIRA BATISTA JR.

With artificial intelligence, all routine intellectual activities, and even non-routine ones, are at risk of becoming redundant

I like to talk to my older readers from time to time. I don't even know if they actually exist and if they're still alive and alert, and maybe I'm just talking to myself. But I imagine this little chronicle will reach some of them. So, here's what I wanted to ask you: do you remember a creative and somewhat folkloric nephew who appeared in some articles and also, in passing, in my most recent book, Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard? Because he will be the central character today. First, however, it is best to do a quick recap to place the character in his “social and historical circumstances”, as an ancient sociologist or historian would say.

He is an intelligent boy with a great sense of humor. When he joined, more than ten years ago, as an intern at an investment bank in São Paulo, he suffered, however, a sudden conversion to the ideas of the buffoon gang. I know that this group doesn't exactly have ideas and, therefore, “ideas” is an inappropriate term. But like every socioeconomic group, the bufunfa group cultivates its concepts or, better said, prejudices.

Because the nephew began to defend, with fervor, all these prejudices. He was enchanted, for example, with “the equilibrium interest rate”, that unobservable variable, reader, inferred by models, which supposedly determines the appropriate level of interest, that is, the one that ensures the convergence of inflation to certain targets . This equilibrium rate actually serves the purpose of justifying the pornographic interest rates that the Central Bank practiced at that time and almost always practices. With the enthusiasm of newcomers, the nephew insistently argued that the “models” unequivocally showed that the equilibrium Selic rate would be 10% per year in real terms!

It happened. Currently, this nephew is a successful businessman in the educational field, proving to be one of the few people in the family who know how to make money. Our family, dominated by (honest) politicians and artists, is truly in denial when it comes to financial matters. Paulinho is an exception. Didn't I say he's my namesake? I forgot. He's almost my namesake, which caused me some embarrassment, I must say.

The reason is that he used to send letters to newspapers and publish some articles, always signed Paulo Nogueira Batista, São Paulo, SP, occasions when he attacked the left and attacked my acquaintances, sometimes harshly. I, who also lived in São Paulo at the time, had to explain that the author of the letters and articles was not me, but a neoliberal nephew. After much complaining from me, today he signs Paulo Batista.

Anyway, let's get to the point. On my mother's birthday, who recently turned 94, the whole family got together, large, happy and noisy. Paulinho couldn't miss it and he didn't have the habit of almost always giving his progressive uncle a hard time. This time, he chose a path that would prove a little embarrassing for him. Embarrassing, but pedagogical.

What happened was emblematic and impressive, at least for a person like me, who is part of a generation that follows the rapid technological progress of the 21st century with some difficulty. The incident I will now describe reveals, I believe, the immense potential of artificial intelligence.

It turns out that, in May of last year, I was introduced to this new technology in an extremely friendly way. Journalist Pedro Cafardo, from Valor Econômico, asked ChatGPT who were the ten greatest Brazilian economists of all time. And published the results.[I] Among the top ten, to my surprise, my name appeared tenth on the list. I was the usher, but I still gave the proverbial triumphal kicks like a run over dog, as Nelson Rodrigues would say. But there was more.

The journalist repeated the question to ChatGPT and my name appeared again, this time in sixth place! Only four other economists (Celso Furtado, Mario Henrique Simonsen, Maria da Conceição Tavares and João Paulo dos Reis Velloso) appeared on both lists, both headed by Furtado, truly our greatest economist,[ii] which gave a certain plausibility to the artificial intelligence’s responses.

My name, however, really clashed. I must recognize. My nephew, as well as other neoliberal and Bolsonarist family members, had received the ChatGPT list with great skepticism. Paulinho then decided, for general amusement, to repeat the question: “Who are the ten greatest Brazilian economists of all time?” Reader, isn't it that I appeared again, now as 5th place! My faith in artificial intelligence grew every five minutes.    

But the nephew did not give up. He asked a new question: “What are the criteria for creating the list?” ChatGPT gave a sensible and defensive response, clarifying that it considers a combination of factors, including academic contributions, influence on Brazilian economic policies, relevant publications and international recognition. However, he noted that selection is subjective and may vary according to each person's criteria.

Paulinho insisted again: “But isn’t Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. a lesser figure?” Slightly insolent question. Look, however, at ChatGPT's response! It was a slap with kid gloves: “He is often recognized for his significant contributions to the Brazilian economy, both in academic terms and in his international career. He held important positions in international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Banco dos Brics (BRICS Development Bank). Furthermore, his economic analyzes and political criticisms have a considerable impact on the public debate on economic issues in Brazil.”

Don't think, reader, that I'm here fabulating and boasting. It was exactly like that. I have the graphic works of the dialogue and I can show them.

But the best is yet to come. Paulinho tried one last question, also a bit insolent: “But isn’t he anti-Semitic?” The response was overwhelming: “There is no substantial evidence to affirm that Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. is an anti-Semite. He is known for his political views and criticism of international economic policies, especially in relation to global financial institutions such as the IMF. However, it is important to separate legitimate political criticism from unfounded accusations of bias. It is crucial to rely on verifiable information and reliable sources when making assessments about public individuals.”

Knockout! A small class. The neoliberal nephew twirled around and kissed the canvas. Then the matter died quickly (there are few progressives in the family). But let's face it, beyond the strictly folkloric, personal and family aspects, isn't the performance of artificial intelligence incredible? In this episode, it should be noted, the application was not limited to collecting information on the network, as is sometimes claimed to disqualify it. When responding, ChatGPT was thoughtful and had the luxury of teaching the human some lessons.

The truth is that artificial intelligence really tends to leave natural intelligence to shame. More and more. Basically, it is the repetition of a recurring and well-known historical pattern in its general outline. Innovations increase the productivity of human labor, benefiting consumers. A significant portion of these consumers, however, compete with new technology and end up unemployed.

With artificial intelligence, all routine intellectual activities, and even non-routine ones, are at risk of becoming redundant. It is difficult to imagine an area that does not suffer or will suffer its impact – as always, beneficial for users and harmful for those who become obsolete.

Imagine, for example, reader that the Capital letter decide to unemploy me. Launch the topic of your choice and ask ChatGPT or another similar application: “Write an article in the style of Paulo Nogueira Batista on this topic.” The article will come out faster and perhaps better than my own texts.

Kind of scary. We can only hope that artificial intelligence also has limits or that we know how to manage its disruptive impact on the economy and society. And, in particular, that your progress is not so rapid and profound that it leads you to discover that, in fact, as my nephew suspects, it makes no sense to include me in the top 10 of Brazilian economists.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. is an economist. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard (LeYa). https://amzn.to/44KpUfp

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letter, on March 07, 2024.

Notes


[I] “The ten greatest Brazilian economists, according to AI”, Valor Econômico, May 23, 2023.

[ii] I recently published an essay about him: “The legacy of Celso Furtado”, Political Economy Magazine, Volume 44, no. 1, January-March/2024.


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