ChatGPT — Can It "Listen" Better Than We Can?

Hyperpolarization Graphic

Newsletter 108 — April 21, 2023



From Beyond Intractability's Co-Directors

Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess


Is ChatGPT All Bad? Or, Might It Be Used for Good?

Amid all of the concern about ways in which ChatGPT, large language models, and AI, more generally, threaten the very fabric of society, we have been trying to do something different — imagine ways in which this new technology might be able to help our societies improve. More specifically, we have been wondering whether AI might be able to help diffuse the hyper-polarization spiral by making it easier for us to understand one another. As we have written about previously, the us-vs-them, good-vs-evil thinking that now dominates our society is largely made possible by the closed nature of the information bubbles in which we all live.  Our lack of direct contact with the other side makes it easy for us to fall into the trap of embracing and amplifying self-serving images of reality — images that paint our side in pleasing and virtuous terms, while unfairly demonizing the other. This effect is dramatically amplified by the fact that treating people as enemies tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy — they will react by thinking of you as an enemy and treating you as such.

We, unfortunately, have relatively few tools that we can use to break down these images. The braver among us can reach out the other side and participate in a wide range of dialogue processes — processes that reveal that there really are multiple sides of every story and that those who disagree with you often have understandable reasons for doing so. While such interactions may help individuals with competing views better understand one another, this rapprochement is seldom extended to the views of the larger political factions to which people belong.

There are also public opinion polls that ask small samples of people to choose between simple choices with respect to a few simple questions. While these polls sometimes suggest that our divisions are not as deep as we think they are, they lack the nuanced reasoning behind opposing political views. For that reason, they are seldom effective at undermining the us-vs-them narratives that now dominate.

In this information-poor environment, ChatGPT and related technologies offer, in theory, a new and potentially quite valuable window into what our fellow citizens are thinking. This hopeful prospect arises from the way in which large language models work. In a world where pretty much everything that anybody thinks or says finds its way onto the Internet, ChatGPT systematically surveys this gigantic flow of information and then uses the algorithms at the core of artificial intelligence to describe, in understandable text, the society's collective response to specific queries or prompts. This is, in essence, a very sophisticated way of creating nuanced averages of the opinion of large groups of people — something vastly more sophisticated than simple statistics commonly reported by polling firms.

AI could also give us a better sense of what people think than you could get from small group dialogues which, inevitably, are limited to the experiences and insights of only a few participants. In theory, ChatGPT prompts could be adjusted in ways that could explore the reasoning and opinions of a wide range of groups within our society and give us all a much more accurate and nuanced look at the views of our adversaries, as well as our "allies." This assumes, of course, that the algorithms that are not designed to produce biased results.)

There is little doubt that, over time, AI  technology could be developed in ways that would allow it to do something like this. And, if it can earn the public's trust as a provider of unbiased information, it might ultimately become a useful tool for helping us break down misunderstandings.

As an initial test of this hopeful hypothesis, we decided to put the current (April 2023) version of ChatGPT to the test. Below, you will find our first set of chat GPT prompts and associated responses.

Our Questions, It's Answers: 

We first asked "What do Democrats think are the principal threats to democracy in the United States? Here's the answer Chat GPT gave then:

There is no single answer to this question, as different thoughtful Democrats may have different perspectives on the principal threats to democracy in the United States. However, some common concerns among thoughtful Democrats include: (emphasis ours)

  • The erosion of democratic norms and institutions: Many Democrats are concerned about the gradual erosion of democratic norms and institutions in the United States, including attacks on the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press, and the rule of law. Some Democrats argue that the Trump administration, in particular, posed a significant threat to these fundamental democratic values.

  • Voter suppression and gerrymandering: Many Democrats are also concerned about efforts to suppress voting rights and manipulate electoral maps to favor one party over another. This includes efforts to restrict access to the ballot box, such as voter ID laws, as well as the manipulation of electoral districts through gerrymandering.

  • The influence of money in politics: Another major concern among thoughtful Democrats is the role of money in politics, and the way in which it can skew the political process in favor of wealthy individuals and corporations. Democrats argue that the Citizens United decision, which removed limits on political spending by corporations, has had a particularly pernicious effect on the political process.

  • Polarization and political extremism: Finally, many Democrats are concerned about the deepening polarization of American politics, and the rise of political extremism on both the left and the right. Democrats worry that this polarization could make it more difficult to find common ground on important issues, and could ultimately undermine the functioning of American democracy.

 Then we asked " "What do thoughtful Republicans think are the principal threats to democracy in the U.S.A?" Chat GPT's answer: (Emphasis ours)

  • Partisan polarization: Many Republicans believe that the growing divide between political parties and their supporters is a significant threat to democracy. The increasingly hostile and tribalistic nature of politics, fueled by media echo chambers and online echo chambers, makes it difficult for different groups to work together and compromise on policy issues.

  • Voter fraud and election integrity: Some Republicans believe that voter fraud and election irregularities pose a threat to the legitimacy of the electoral process, which is a cornerstone of democracy. They argue that measures such as voter ID laws and increased election security are necessary to ensure that only eligible voters are able to cast ballots and that the results are trustworthy.

  • Overreach of federal government power: Many Republicans believe that the federal government has overstepped its bounds and has taken on too much power, limiting the rights of individuals and states. They argue that government should be limited in its role, and that individual freedoms and state sovereignty should be protected.

  • Cancel culture and attacks on free speech: Some Republicans argue that cancel culture, social media censorship, and attacks on free speech pose a threat to democracy by limiting the exchange of ideas and stifling dissenting voices. They believe that a robust exchange of ideas is necessary for a healthy democracy.

  • The rise of authoritarianism: Some Republicans worry that the erosion of democratic norms, the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals or institutions, and the erosion of checks and balances could lead to the rise of authoritarianism. They argue that vigilance is necessary to protect against the erosion of democracy and ensure that power remains distributed across different branches of government and different institutions.

Then we asked a second set of two questions: The first was: What do progressives mean by "justice"?  Chat GPT''s answer:

  • "Justice" is a broad and multifaceted term that can have different meanings depending on the context and the individual's perspective. However, progressives in the U.S. generally use the term "justice" to refer to the concept of social justice, which encompasses various principles and goals related to fairness, equality, and human rights.
  • Progressives believe that the U.S. justice system and broader society should prioritize issues such as racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice. This means that the focus should be on remedying historic and systemic injustices and creating a more equitable and just society for all.
  • For example, racial justice may involve addressing issues of police brutality against people of color, promoting anti-discrimination policies and practices, and advocating for reparations for the historical harms inflicted on Black Americans. Gender justice may involve addressing issues of gender-based violence, promoting equal pay and workplace rights, and advocating for reproductive rights and healthcare access for all.
  • Economic justice may involve addressing issues of income and wealth inequality, promoting policies that reduce poverty and support workers' rights, and advocating for universal healthcare and education. Environmental justice may involve addressing issues of environmental racism and pollution, promoting sustainable and equitable resource management, and advocating for policies that prioritize the protection of vulnerable communities.

Overall, progressives view justice as an ongoing process that requires active participation, critical analysis, and a commitment to dismantling unjust systems and institutions.

When we asked "What do U.S. conservatives mean by justice"? ChatGPT responded:

  • "Justice" is a term that can mean different things to different people, including those who identify as conservatives in the United States. Generally speaking, conservatives tend to emphasize the importance of individual responsibility, limited government intervention, and traditional values. As a result, their conception of justice often centers around the idea of personal accountability, protecting individual rights and freedoms, and enforcing the rule of law.
  • For some conservatives, justice may mean a strict adherence to the original intent of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They may argue that the government's primary responsibility is to protect citizens' rights to life, liberty, and property, and that justice is best served by limiting government power and ensuring that the law is applied equally and fairly to all individuals.
  • Others may view justice in terms of upholding traditional moral values, such as a belief in personal responsibility and a strong work ethic. For these individuals, justice may involve punishing those who engage in criminal or unethical behavior, while rewarding those who contribute to society through hard work and moral uprightness.

Overall, the conservative perspective on justice is often grounded in a belief in individual rights and freedoms, limited government intervention, and a commitment to upholding traditional values and moral principles.

What Do You Think?

We found these answers both credible and fascinating. What do you think? Does this technology have potential to break down stereotypes and further intergroup understanding?  If so, how might this be done?  

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