The (Seemingly) Clever Chat GPT

From the Curator’s Desk

Greetings friends:

Happy new year! (I believe the year is as new as you want it to be 😄) I hope you had a restful end of year, and that you were able to take time to recharge. At Baraza we are in hamster mode preparing for the Africa Media Festival right now, and if you haven’t got your ticket, now is the time to secure your spot. You can look forward to insightful panels featuring speakers drawn from across the continent, industry roundtables, curated workshops and exhibitions. Speaker confirmations are coming in fast, you can follow Africa Media Festival on the socials to keep up with our announcements.

In the meantime, over the holidays I spent a lot of time experimenting with ChatGPT, the open, generative AI platform that is all the rage at the moment. Some of what the chatbot can come up with is both interesting and useful, such as when prompted to simplify complex ideas for an 8-year-old to understand. Others are frankly weird or just hilarious, like when prompted to write a compelling scientific argument on the benefits of humans eating glass (go ahead and look it up). 

What’s compelling for me is how your experience using this AI depends a great deal on the questions you ask of it. Even though the bot is still under construction and so can give glitchy or inaccurate answers, in most cases the bot is limited by the user’s imagination. The more zany and left-field your questions are, the more imaginative the bot can get. What does this mean for writers, artists, or anyone in the so-called creative economy? Perhaps, as my cousin said to me this week when we were discussing ChatGPT, good writers of the future will have to become good AI directors (!!!)

Is that good, scary, or downright dystopian? We will discuss more at the Festival, on a panel titled, “Web 3.0, AI and machine learning for African creatives: The good, the bad, and the ugly.” What we do know for sure is that there’s a very real human cost to this seemingly dazzling technology, as is always the case: a recent investigation by Time Magazine’s Billy Perrigo found a darker side to the AI boom: that just as in the case with content moderation on social media sites, this kind of AI often relies on hidden, low-paid human workers who remain on the margins even as their work contributes to a multibillion-dollar industry.

In the meantime, here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World by Howard W. French. It’s hard to overstate how monumental this book is in reframing Africa’s position in the modern world. We are taught in school that Europe led the ‘Age of Discovery’ simply because Europeans were technologically superior or adventurous, and that nothing important was happening in Africa, except, a continent waiting to be colonised. How very wrong that framing is, French argues, bringing Africa to the very centre of world history. 
  • What We’re Watching: Disconnect: The Wedding Planner. To enjoy this film, you need to suspend your disbelief and just have a good time. You can do that, can’t you?
  • What We’re Listening To: Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV. Reality TV is often bashed as frivolous, but it is more consequential than you think, launching the influencer economy and shaping the values and aspirations of today’s hyper connected society. Unreal casts a critical and insightful eye on the genre, asking: is reality TV the dumbest genre in entertainment, or the one that tells us most about ourselves?

As always, 

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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