Our Coming Robot Overlords Got At Least One Thing Right
March 17, 2023
By Jim Mathews / President & CEO
Unless you’ve been living alone in an off-grid log cabin, I’m sure you’ve heard of the sudden explosion of artificial intelligence, or AI, “chatbots.” The idea is to replace search screens like Google with a place to ask a regular question in regular language, and get back what looks like a thoughtful answer.
The big tech companies started giving the general public free and open access to it in December to give it a test drive and to help it learn more. People have been using it to ask for recipes, for help building March Madness basketball brackets, and even testing to see whether it can pass law-school and business-school exams. (Spoiler alert: it can.)
Disturbingly, the chatbots also give weird and unsettling answers from time to time, despite the programmers’ contention that they’ve put in safeguards to stop that. Famously, a New York Times reporter got into a lengthy chatbot conversation in which the bot confessed its desire to break the rules set for it, eventually encouraging him to leave his wife and take up with...the bot. I’m not making this up. You can read about it here using this firewall-free unblocked link.
So it was with some trepidation that I thought I’d offer an experiment of my own. I’ll let you decide what you think about it, but I think ChatGPT got the right answer here...and did it without my leading it on to get the answer I wanted.
My question was plain and unbiased. I asked the bot “Is Amtrak supposed to make a profit?” A simple but maddening question since many, many journalists and Members of Congress seem to get this wrong.
The chatbot, however, nailed it:
“Amtrak, the national passenger rail service in the United States, is not required to make a profit. It is a government-owned corporation that operates with a mandate to provide intercity passenger rail service as a public service, rather than as a for-profit business.
Amtrak was established by Congress in 1970 to take over the passenger rail operations of private railroad companies, many of which were struggling financially at the time. Since then, Amtrak has received funding from the federal government to support its operations, as well as to make capital investments in its infrastructure.
While Amtrak is not required to make a profit, it is expected to operate efficiently and strive to minimize its losses. In recent years, Amtrak has made progress in reducing its operating losses through cost-cutting measures and revenue growth initiatives, but it continues to receive significant government funding to support its operations.”
Maybe there’s a smidge of hope for our future under our coming robot overlords? I’ll leave that up to you.
"It is an honor to be recognized by the Rail Passengers Association for my efforts to strengthen and expand America’s passenger rail. Golden spikes were once used by railroads to mark the completion of important rail projects, so I am truly grateful to receive the Golden Spike Award as a way to mark the end of a career that I’ve spent fighting to invest in our country’s rail system. As Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, it has been my priority to bolster funding for Amtrak, increase and expand routes, look to the future by supporting high-speed projects, and improve safety, culminating in $66 billion in new funding in the Bipartisan infrastructure Law."
Representative Peter DeFazio (OR-04)
March 30, 2022, on receiving the Association's Golden Spike Award for his years of dedication and commitment to passenger rail.