By Jack Cumming

In 1949, Edmund Callis Berkeley posed two questions that sound familiar today: “(1) Can machines think? and (2) What is a mechanical brain?” Good questions. I was then 13 years old and reveled in the technological world unfolding around us. Most SLF readers weren’t yet born.

Berkeley elaborated: “Recently [remember this was 1949] there has been a good deal of news about strange giant machines that can handle information with vast speed and skill. They calculate and they reason. [Does that sound familiar?]

‘Some of them,” Berkeley continued, “are cleverer than others – able to do more kinds of problems. Some are extremely fast: one of them does 5000 additions a second for hours or days, as may be needed.

“Where they apply,” he wrote, “they find answers to problems much faster and more accurately than human beings can; and so they can solve problems that a man’s [remember this was 1949] life is far too short to permit him to do.”

We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

Berkeley’s insights sure sound familiar, but friends tell me that “artificial intelligence” first came into use in 1956, seven years after Berkeley’s thinking. Now a new generation is on the scene with the public advent of ChatGPT in November 2022. One has to think that “there’s nothing new under the sun” except that everything is new, and each generation leaves its mark upon the solemn procession of the generations.

This reflection led me to ask ChatGPT [the names of new technologies are getting more abstruse] if Edmund Callis Berkeley was its father. I’ll let ChatGPT (pronouns “it” or whatever you like) speak for itself.

Begin ChatGPT Quote:

Me: Was Edmund Callis Berkeley your father?

ChatGPT: No, Edmund Callis Berkeley was not my father. I am an artificial intelligence created by OpenAI, and I don’t have a father or any human family. Edmund Callis Berkeley was an early computer scientist and a pioneer in the field, known for his work in promoting the use of computers and for writing about their potential. If you have any questions about him or his contributions to computer science, feel free to ask!

Me: Did OpenAI rely on any of Edmund Callis Berkeley’s thinking in creating you?

ChatGPT: Edmund Callis Berkeley made significant contributions to the field of computer science, particularly in the early promotion and conceptualization of computers. His work helped lay the groundwork for the development of computer technology and the broader acceptance of computing machines.

While OpenAI’s development of artificial intelligence, including the creation of models like me, is built on decades of advancements in computer science and AI research, it is not directly reliant on Berkeley’s specific ideas. However, the foundational principles and early advocacy for the potential of computers, which Berkeley was a part of, have certainly influenced the field as a whole.

OpenAI’s work builds on a vast body of research and contributions from numerous scientists, researchers, and technologists over the years. This includes advancements in machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing, and other areas of AI that have evolved significantly since Berkeley’s time. So, indirectly, the progress and ideas promoted by pioneers like Berkeley have contributed to the environment in which modern AI has been developed.

End quote:

That might make Edmund Callis Berkeley ChatGPT’s great-great-grandfather, but it’s evident that it has many predecessors as do all of us. We stand on the shoulders of giants, which is one reason why the Continuing Care Hall of Fame is such a contribution to the senior living industry. When we give credit to those who come before us, we rediscover their moral and ethical principles and the commitment that they made to the betterment of humankind.

The sudden arrival of ChatGPT has caused an awakened awareness of the steady advance of automation, both positive and negative. Anything new requires a period of familiarization before people become comfortable with it. In other cases, people don’t realize how much automation there already is.

Many jobs have already been replaced by robots. We know of that in the automobile industry, but who would have thought that baking croissants was as automated as is apparent in this video: Fully Automatic Croissants?

How the robotic, AI enabled revolution will impact senior care and senior living remains to be seen. What’s evident, though, is that human beings will be in charge, and it’s up to us what use, good or bad, we make of machines. A machine has no feelings and can’t function when you pull the plug out of the socket.

More On Berkeley

Edmund Berkeley, as a young actuary during the 1930s, worked with what were then called “calculating machines” to automate actuarial calculations and record processing. Only later were “calculating machines” elevated by IBM to be called “computers,” much as “life plan” is a semantic attempt to elevate “continuing care.” This was before ASOPs codified actuarial practice, so Berkeley was guided by ethical professional principles alone.

When World War II came, Berkeley’s services were redirected to the Navy, which needed computational prowess. Thereafter, he continued to work on the development of advanced computing in service to humanity. Actuaries, like Quakers, often play a positive role in society without being fully acknowledged for the value they add.

Of Berkeley, his obit declares: “Berkeley’s lifetime goal, only partly achieved at his death, was to educate his readers so that they could do as he did: think clearly about important matters, reach wise conclusions, and act bravely in support of their principles. He aspired to be, and was accepted by many as, the conscience of the computer industry because of his devotion to the idea that computers should work for the good of and not the destruction of mankind.” Click here for Berkeley’s 1949 Book. It’s only 2 bucks on Kindle