I hope the subtitle and third author’s name on this book don’t put you off. “An Artificial Intelligence Answers …” is the correct start of the subtitle. “GPT-3” is the correct third author; that abbreviation stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3,” which is “a natural language processing AI developed by OpenAI,” according to the human coauthors Thomas and Wang. AI stands for Artificial Intelligence.
There is surprising and refreshing wisdom here. It is a most interesting collaboration.
Thomas and Wang fed the texts of our great world religion scriptures, and other varieties of spiritual teachings that have formed the basis of human belief, faith, and philosophy for millennia into GPT-3, and then asked it questions. These materials included the Torah, Christian Bible, Tao Te Ching, Qur’an, ancient philosophies and medieval poetry (Rumi, for example), even the lyrics of Leonard Cohen.
An example of GPT-3’s synthesis of all this material appears on the page facing the Contents page: “It’s like the old story about the man who says to God, 'Tell me the secret of life.' And God says, 'You are the secret of life.' “ Thomas and Wang did not write this; they recorded it.
Part Two is a series of short questions and short answers, some less than a page each. These include topics such as “Where do we begin?” “How do I find my voice?” “What is the secret to prosperity?” “Why do we suffer?” and “Why do we die?”
Sometimes GPT-3’s answers come across as an efficient summary of the world’s religious wisdom. For example, in answer to “What is the responsibility of human beings?”, AI answers: “To be a sign of the divinity present in every person.”
Sometimes the answers seem to draw on self-help literature, as when AI answers the question, “What is the key to success?” with “The key to success is this: First, fall in love with the process of becoming successful…. Second, fall in love with the action you are taking toward success. Find the action to be worthy, not the results or the goal.”
Sometimes GPT-3’s answers are a bit cryptic, with a halting sort of English, but interesting nonetheless. See the excerpt accompanying this review for an example.
At other times, GPT-3’s answers are powerful, original, even soulful, which raises philosophical questions about what a soul is or where to find one. For instance, answering “Is there a God?” AI answers: “Love, by its very nature, is unconditional, infinite, and all-powerful, for it is God.”