Discover more from The Future of Being Human
Don't Panic: Elon Musk launches a new AI based on the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
While there appears to be some serious compute under the hood of xAI's new generative AI engine "Grok", the platform is anything but serious in its implementation
Just days after talking with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about the potential risks of artificial intelligence, Elon Musk has launched an AI based on none other than Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
xAI describes the new AI as:
… an AI modeled after the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so intended to answer almost anything and, far harder, even suggest what questions to ask!
Grok is designed to answer questions with a bit of wit and has a rebellious streak, so please don’t use it if you hate humor!
Just to put this into context, here’s how the original Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is described in Adams’ original radio series:
From episode 1:
“[T]he Hitch-Hiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, because although it has many omissions, contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper, and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
And from episode 5:
“One of the major selling points of that wholly remarkable book, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, apart from its relative cheapness and the fact that it has the words ‘Don’t Panic’ written in large friendly letters on the cover, is its compendious and occasionally accurate glossary. For instance, the statistics relating to the geo-social nature of the Universe are deftly set out between pages five hundred and seventy six thousand three hundred and twenty four, and five hundred and seventy six thousand three hundred and twenty six. The simplistic style is partly explained by the fact that its editors, having spent a publishing deadline, copied the basic information off the back of a packet of breakfast cereal, hastily embroidering it with a few footnotes in order to avoid prosecution under the incomprehensibly tortuous Galactic copyright laws.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t what the xAI team were thinking of when they invoked Douglas Adam's’ creation. And yet the idea of a guide that leans more toward what you want to hear than what is, strictly speaking, true, is perhaps par for the course for AI coming out of the House of Elon … apart from the fact that xAI’s goal is to “understand the true nature of the universe”.
I haven’t had the chance to get my hands on Grok yet, but I suspect that beneath the tongue in cheek emphasis on humor, sarcasm, and Douglas Adams, xAI’s new product will have some serious capabilities. This is already indicated in early benchmarking against other systems. And I suspect that there’s some serious talent and thought going into a generative AI system that is intended to rival or beat the best out there at the moment.
And yet, there is a palpable tension between the current rhetoric around the disruptive potential of emerging foundation models (of which Grok is one) and the need to develop them responsibly — and the launch of a platform that takes its inspiration from a source that is anything but responsible!
On the other hand, Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is remarkably good at holding up a mirror to humanity’s absurdities, and in doing so helping us cut through the noise of entrenched ideas and narrow thinking.
Maybe, for all the hype and hubris, this is where Grok is headed. And perhaps it will live up to the concept that it’s named after (and which originated from another science fiction writer — Robert A. Heinlein): to understand something profoundly and intuitively.
I guess we’re about to find out!