Adapting to technological advances is a defining a part of Twenty first-century life. However it’s not distinctive to us: it’s been a part of the human story since our earliest written data – even that includes within the plotlines of historical myths and legends.
Whereas ChatGPT threatens to vary writing (and writing-related work) as we all know it, the Mesopotamians, who lived 4,000 years in the past (in a geographical space centred in modern-day Iraq), went by way of this type of seismic change earlier than us. Their civilisation is credited with the invention of writing.
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY
Dwelling in altering occasions
Simply two months after launching in November 2022, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has already reached an viewers of over 100 million folks.
The big language mannequin (LLM), typically referred to as “autocomplete on steroids”, has drawn consideration for its capability to create human-like solutions to queries. Its work has acquired passing grades on college legislation and enterprise exams, and been utilized in a Colombian courtroom to assist resolve a authorized ruling.
Responses to ChatGPT and its opponents have vacillated between recognising the potential dangers of the chatbot and extolling its potential advantages. We’re flooded with theories on how new advances in AI could change how we work, examine and reside.
Historic Mesopotamia was dwelling to a lot of civilisation’s early developments. Its folks had been world leaders in adapting to technological and cultural change.
Mesopotamians invented the wheel and agriculture, and pioneered advances in arithmetic, urbanisation and transportation. These breakthroughs are mirrored in cuneiform literature, one of many oldest identified types of writing.
The historical past of cuneiform writing is complicated, nevertheless it appears to have initially developed to document financial knowledge, comparable to money owed that had been owed. Over time, nevertheless, the Mesopotamians widened their use of indicators inscribed into clay tablets to document a wide range of info, in quite a few languages. New makes use of lined all the pieces from diplomatic correspondences to omen texts, to a number of the world’s oldest literary masterpieces.
Information to the classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh
On the planet’s earliest identified written epic, Gilgamesh, the eponymous hero is proven inventing and utilizing applied sciences, comparable to diving weights and a sail, to additional his journey to the perimeters of the world – and past.
As famous by Assyriologist Andrew George, the younger hero develops new applied sciences to assist his quest for fame and immortality. These advances permit him to have interaction in beforehand unknown actions, comparable to crusing and deep-sea diving.
One other royal hero from Mesopotamia, Lugalbanda (typically identified for his tremendous pace) can also be credited with technological development. Lugalbanda improves the strategy of fire-starting through the use of flint to spark embers and bake bread. The heroes’ use of recent instruments emphasises their exceptionalism.
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Innovations and ambiguity
Mesopotamian epics don’t current cultural and technological advances as unambiguously and uniformly useful. In Gilgamesh, the advantages of civilisation and urbanisation, comparable to advances in wall-building expertise, are juxtaposed with their prices – comparable to environmental destruction and alienation from the wild.
Certainly, the epics typically symbolize new applied sciences being harnessed within the service of human battle – and disproportionately serving the pursuits of these with excessive social standing. Within the Sumerian epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, the heroic king defeats his enemy by inventing and utilizing superior expertise: the flexibility to put in writing on clay tablets.
This invention can also be regarded as referenced within the Epic of Sargon, the place Sargon seems to dodge a homicide try by way of his epic studying abilities. The textual content notes that whereas writing on tablets had been developed at that stage, the usage of envelopes to cover their contents had not (maybe fortunately for Sargon).
In some methods, the illustration of recent applied sciences in cuneiform literature echoes modern issues about AI: fears of accelerating social inequalities and its potential use in cyberwarfare.
Zunkir/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY
The way forward for historical past
Learning the previous can deepen our understanding of how people have tailored to fashionable expertise over 1000’s of years. Conversely, fashionable expertise continues to broaden our understanding of historical past.
In recent times, AI – the latest type of writing – has been used to decipher the oldest: cuneiform literature. The Fragmentarium venture, for instance, makes use of refined algorithms to find out which fragments of shattered cuneiform texts belong collectively; these algorithms predict the textual content that when crammed the lacking sections.
AI will doubtless proceed to change the best way historians analyse the previous. This may require new issues round acquainted points – comparable to the way to symbolize the previous precisely in gentle of presumably biased proof, and the necessity to critically consider sources of data.
Within the broader discipline of academia, the boundaries of how AI could also be used haven’t but been clearly defined. In January, for instance, a high worldwide AI convention banned the usage of AI instruments for writing scientific papers – although its use in modifying papers was accepted.
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Contemplating the boundaries of expertise
Even these early tech adapters, the Mesopotamians, bumped into issues the expertise of the day couldn’t handle.
Local weather change is assumed to have resulted within the downfall of the Akkadian Empire, typically referred to as the world’s first multi-national political entity. And even the artful Gilgamesh couldn’t escape his personal mortality.
People have been grappling with the way to invent, use and adapt to expertise since our earliest civilisations. In Mesopotamian epic literature, new expertise helps heroic people journey past accepted limitations and develop new abilities. However the expertise and ensuing information aren’t at all times evenly distributed.
Realizing how we tailored to altering expertise previously helps us extra totally perceive the human situation – and will even assist us put together for the longer term.
Louise Pryke doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.