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Fareed Zakaria GPS

The War in Ukraine in 2023; 2022 in Review; Biden Hosts African Leaders At Major Summit; U.S. And China Compete For Influence In Africa. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 18, 2022 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the program. The year 2022 was a wild one for the world. We'll remember it all. From Russia's invasion to the Queen's death, protests in Iran and China, worldwide economic woes, and more.

ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: I have never in my career seen a geopolitical shock, an energy shock, and a macroeconomic shock coming together in a way that they have this year.

ZAKARIA: Then the poorest and most neglected continent is seeing its global power increase. We examine the present and future of Africa.

Also, public awareness of artificial intelligence is booming right now. You've likely seen AI created portraits of people you know. And now, AI is writing rather decent prose and poems, too. Are we ready for it? We will explore.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. 2022 has ushered in enormous and geopolitical uncertainty with inflation and energy crisis, high interest rates and fears of a recession. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has raised international tensions sky high. And yet, when you sit back and examine it carefully, the country that looks most capable of navigating these murky waters is the United States of America.

As an essay in the "Harvard Business Review" puts it, the current reality of the U.S. economy is that highly profitable firms are employing a record number of workers and paying them rising wages. Americans' household wealth has skyrocketed because of COVID relief. American banks are sturdy thanks to post 2008 reforms. Companies are still posting strong earnings. America has abundant energy.

And thanks to the dollar, the American government can run up debts with greater ease than any other country in the world. Meanwhile, Europe faces a dire energy crisis, which will take years to fix. China is struggling to get out of its Zero COVID strategy. Russia has been isolated from global, economic and technological flows.

Developing countries face the double whammy of high energy prices and a strong dollar in which a significant chunk of their debt is denominated. America has lots of problems, but if I had to have one hand to play, this remains the best.

I've wondered as to why America continues to surprise on the upside. Behind the economic data, there does seem to be in America a spirit of innovation that is unusual and powerful. A recent book that is not directly about this subject at all has helped me crystallize some my own thoughts on this subject. CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein's brilliant history of American pop culture in the mid- 1970s "Rock Me on the Water."

Brownstein begins by describing American popular culture in the early and mid-1960s, particularly the movies and television shows as bland, apolitical and lifeless. Hollywood was addicted to World War II movies, Westerns, musicals, and above all gargantuan historic epics like "The Ten Commandments."

Television right up to the late 1960s was dominated by what was considered wholesome fare like "Gun Smoke," "Bonanza," "Where's Lucy?" and "The Wonderful World of Disney."

The rising tide of baby boomers were tuning it out. Weekly admissions at movie theaters fell by over 50 percent from 1950 to 1960. Then came rebellion and revolution in the form of sharp brakes with this conformist culture. First in music, then in movies, and finally in the broadest of all platforms, television shows.

By the mid '70s, rock music reigned supreme.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see this sign?



ZAKARIA: The movie industry had been remade by sharp, edgy fare like "Five Easy Pieces," "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Taxi Driver."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are one dumb Polack.


ZAKARIA: And the top television show in America was the funny but intensely political and politically incorrect, "All in the Family."

This break with the past struck me as deeply American. Young people rejected the wisdom of their elders, dispense with tradition, and forge their own way, making new music, movies and television. They were disrespectful and disruptive, consumed with a kind of manic energy. But that energy created a new popular culture that remade America and the world.

It's difficult to imagine that kind of attack on hierarchy and tradition coming out of other more settled societies. It sounds exciting in retrospect, but Brownstein reminds us of how jarring the break was to many, perhaps most Americans. It came along with a disruptive, disrespectful politics that was often more than just angry, it was violent and messy.

Those were the years of political assassinations, riots, the black power movement, the Black Panthers, and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst and engaged in what was back then the largest police firefight that had ever occurred on American soil.

The new left activism of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda was a wholesale attack on both political parties and the entire American political system.

The rebellion didn't last long, and there was a backlash to it. Politicians like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan rode to power, denouncing the radical youth culture of the time. And yet that culture has proved deeply influential and lasting. In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson ties the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley in the 1970s to the same spirit of youth rebellion.

I do wonder whether American culture today still retains the elements that made it so disruptive in the 1970s. Today feels more bourgeoise, and where there is anger, often on the populous stripe, it's the kind of nostalgic rage that fueled Nixon and Reagan, a surge to take America back, not forward.

Still, one has to marvel at America in the 1970s, the world's richest and most powerful country that somehow retained the capacity for massive restlessness, dissent, and radical change. Somewhere in there is the country's secret sauce for success.

And let's get started.

2022 has been another stunning trip around the sun. One for the record books maybe. As many around the world started venturing out after hunkering down at home for COVID-19, Russia invaded Ukraine. Oil prices spiked. Growth slowed. Inflation accelerated.

Roe was overturned. Two British prime ministers resigned, and their nation faces a long recession. The Queen died. The FBI searched Donald Trump's residence.

Protests rocked Iran. Xi Jinping grabbed more power, only to have China hit by protests as well. After which Beijing loosened its Zero COVID policy. The big red wave in American politics, well, it wasn't.

North Korea launched missiles on more than 30 days this year. And we still have two weeks left to go.

Joining me now to make sense of it all are Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of "The Economist," and Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, a global risk consultancy.

Zanny, let me start with you. "The Economist" has this extraordinary trio of interviews, including with the head of Ukraine's army, General Zaluzhny, who has been a very hard to get interview, so kudos on that, and what he says, and this is what I want to get at, is the war in Ukraine is at a pivotal moment. He thinks in the next few months, maybe the next several weeks, we will figure out whether or not the Ukrainians are going to be able to really break through or get bogged down.

Give me a better sense of where you think Ukraine's elites think the war is headed.

MINTON BEDDOES: Well, that's actually right, Fareed. It was a pretty extraordinary trio of briefings. We had a briefing with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, we had a briefing from Valery Zaluzhny, as you say one of the leader of Ukraine's ground forces, and also with General Syrskyi.

And General Zaluzhny was I think -- you know, talked to us at great length, talked to my colleagues at great lengths, and was very clear that not only was it a turning point, but he was clear that he was convinced Russia was amassing arms and men for another offensive.


And this could come as soon as January but probably more likely February or a little later. And he said it could come from the Donbas, it could come from the south, it could come from Belarus. But he was absolutely sure it was going to happen. And he said that he thought the Russians would have another go at taking Kyiv. So he really thinks that, you know, talk in the West is about time for diplomacy, time for -- you know, time to freeze this conflict.

I think the view from Kyiv is that would be a very, very dangerous thing to do because the Russians are, you know, preparing for another offensive.

ZAKARIA: So fair to say, Ian, when you look at this 2022 in retrospect, the biggest story, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, really has changed the dynamics of the international system.

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: Because it's a global conflict, right? It's the first time in history that we have taken a G20 economy out of the G7 completely decoupled. They've been made fundamentally into a real pariah.

Also, the economic implications for Europe. The de-industrialization that they're seeing. The spend they're going to have to make on defense going forward. The conflict they have to deal with, with Russia.

And then of course the impact on global energy, on global food, on global fertilizer that really makes you much more despondent about the near-term implications for the developing world, the poorest in the world. So it's not just that suddenly we have to respond and provide the

support for Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are fighting so courageously, but it's also the impact of this war is truly affecting everybody.

ZAKARIA: Zanny, when you look at the, you know, the kind of repercussions of the Russian war in Ukraine, what do you think are likely to be the longest lasting? I mean, there is this -- as Ian says, there is a real decoupling that has taken place with Russia totally isolated with the exception obviously of energy.

MINTON BEDDOES: I think that's right. I mean I think what we've seen, and I completely agree with Ian, is a huge geopolitical shock, a huge energy shock and a huge macroeconomic shock this year all happening at the same time.

The geopolitical shock is, you know, I think the biggest clearly in our lifetime. It's an absolute, you know, attack on the post-war order. This Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, and I'm sure we'll come on to this, you also had a further estrangement and decoupling between the U.S. and China, which is the sort of bigger, longer term strategic rivalry. Those two geopolitical shocks caused a massive energy shock.

And I think it's sort of easy to underestimate quite how profound the transformation is that's going on. You know, Europe was Russia's biggest customer for its gas, and Europe is wholesale changing its energy system at warp speed. And what's that done not only has it, as Ian said, caused the commodity price spike that has, you know, caused terrible suffering in the developing world, it's also fueled the inflationary shock.

And we've seen, you know, we've seen the highest inflation rates since the 1980s, it's caused a complete transformation in the macroeconomic environment. And so all those three things together I think mean that this has been -- really we often trade in hyperbole as journalists, you know, you always think the latest crisis is the most dramatic one ever. But I really think that I have never, in my career, seen a geopolitical shock, an energy shock, and a macroeconomic shock coming together in the way that they have this year.

ZAKARIA: The good news in all of this, if there is any, is surely the surprising resilience of the West.

BREMMER: The West.

ZAKARIA: Talk about that.

BREMMER: Well, I mean, one thing that hasn't gotten much coverage, as the Europeans are taking it so, so hard economically, is its political unity in Europe that's allowing them to get through this. The Europeans together are now working on a ninth round of sanctions against the Russians, all 27 E.U. countries have voted unanimously for every one of those rounds. They are working together on a stronger, coordinated energy policy.

A coordinated fiscal policy on the back of what was a coordinated health care policy in response to the pandemic. So, I mean, interestingly, the E.U., it's the largest common market. They had Brexit. I mean, for the last several years, a lot of people were saying, well, is the E.U. going to fall apart?

What about the democracies in these countries? It turns out that not only the democracies themselves relatively resilient, we saw that in the U.S., too, but also the E.U. itself, which is by far the most significant experimental success of supernational governance in the democratic region, turns out to work pretty well.

ZAKARIA: All right. Hold that thought. We will get back to more, especially China, the other big part of this story, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: And we are back here on GPS with Zanny Minton Beddoes of "The Economist" and Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group.

Ian, the other big war that's taken place in 2022, and it's nothing on the scale of Russia and Ukraine, but it's very significant, is the U.S. economic struggle or tussle with China, the semiconductor ban, the CHIPS Act, things like that. Talk about this. Is this a kind of new economic war and how consequential?

BREMMER: It's important because it is a containment strategy by the United States against China in an area of not only core economic performance but also core national security importance. What we're seeing is the Americans who entered this export control policy by itself are now getting the allies on board.


Just over the last few days, we saw the Netherlands, we saw the Japanese supporting the U.S. And the Chinese response has been fairly restrained. It's going to the WTO. Xi Jinping was a little chippy with Biden on this issue specifically when they met together in Bali, but it wasn't we're going to have a new cold war. In fact both leaders have specifically said we don't want a new cold war.

And certainly Xi Jinping does not want to be seen or tarred with the same brush that Putin has globally. He's even done a bit of a charm offensive recently with some of the other advanced industrial democracies like the way he welcomed Scholz, the German chancellor, and the way I think he will welcome Macron in the future weeks. So I think it's a really important, it's a structural issue. But it is competition. I wouldn't call it cold war. I wouldn't even call it a crisis.

ZAKARIA: Zanny, what the administration, the Biden administration is trying to do, I think, it is exactly what Ian said, which is to hive off certain pieces of the global economy and say these are areas where we want to kind of isolate the Chinese. So, for example, even in the chip industry, most chips they're saying can trade freely on a globalized market. It's these very top-end of chips, the five nanometer chips, et cetera, that they're trying to.

Will that work or will this spill over into a more general economic conflict between the United States and China, the two largest economies in the world?

MINTON BEDDOES: So I think the jury is still out. I think you've articulated very well exactly what the U.S. is trying to do, which is to have a sort of surgical decoupling of certain areas to slow China down, particularly in these high tech areas. I think it's also worth pointing out that that's really only one part of the broader U.S. economic -- geoeconomic strategy if you want. The other part is a huge industrial policy at home.

One of the other big things we've seen this year is the enormous amount of money that the U.S. has spent on various things from the CHIPS Act to the, you know, poorly named Inflation Reduction Act, which is a huge bunch of subsidies into accelerating the climate transition to the infrastructure bill. Collectively, that's massive industrial policy. I mean, the U.S. now spends more industrial policy that famously (INAUDIBLE) France.

And it's done it in a way which is particularly focused on attracting investment into it and focusing on things made in America. So it's quite a protectionist strategy. And the reason I raised that is because that is simultaneously causing some tensions with allies, particularly in Europe.

And I think, you know, it's going to be quite a balancing act. The logic of this is both to boost industrialization at home and try and slow China down. But, you know, I'm a good free market liberal. I worry about industrial policy.

I worry about export controls. I worry that all of this is hard to pull off in the kind of surgical, planned manner that the Biden administration is trying to do.

ZAKARIA: One other thing about China that has struck me, and this is all very recently, and I want to ask you about it, it does seem like until recently, Xi Jinping's China was very different from his predecessors. They didn't make course corrections. They double down on whatever policy they had. They didn't seem to be particularly sensitive to popular sentiment. Now what you're seeing is the Zero COVID policy is being dismantled almost too hastily.

They are making overtures to industry. They've been describing ways in which they want to get growth ramped up again. Is Xi Jinping's China, you think, moving in a more pragmatic direction?

BREMMER: It's moving in a very incautious and intemperate direction, and that is not what we expected to see from Xi Jinping. People thought after Xi Jinping gets his third term and the party Congress that he's going to start pivoting away from Zero COVID in a deliberate and incremental fashion. That's not what happened. He got his power. He had no intention of moving away from it. The people decided they were going to demonstrate. And then suddenly he backed off. And he didn't just back off, he ripped off the band-aid. He said fine,

everyone can get COVID, we're not going to test anymore. That app that was tracking you, gone. You just don't see that from the Chinese dictator. Right? And so it's very startling, and I think a lot of investors around the world that have thought that they know at least the limits on where China can go in any given day are going to be deeply discomforted, very unsettled by what they've seen over the course of the past few weeks.

ZAKARIA: Zanny, I have to ask you about your own country because, I mean, you've had three prime ministers in the last year or two. This is extraordinary. It does feel like this is all the bitter fruit of Brexit. Is there any solution to jumpstarting the British economy short of rejoining the European Union?

MINTON BEDDOES: The quick answer to that is no. Britain is in for a long haul.

Fareed, you know this, but my first job at "The Economist" was to be emerging market correspondent but I used to have to get on an airplane to go do my job.


But for a few weeks in September, you know, I could have been the emerging market correspondent and stayed at home because it really felt like a country that have lost the confidence of the markets. Now it's much more, we've got a competent prime minister, we've restored the confidence of the markets. But what we don't have is a recipe for growth. And Britain is going to have the longest and probably deepest recession in Europe. It's not clear where the drivers of growth are.

One of the good things that the ill-fated prime ministership of Liz Truss was trying to do was to focus on growth and the need for growth. And the problem is I just don't see any appetite in the Tory Party for the kind of reforms that they needed. And you're quite right that one of the biggest blows to the U.K.'s growth prospects has been Brexit. So we're in a pretty long period of problems.

But, because I don't want to be the kind of Grinch of Christmas, the truth is that, you know, Britain has the capacity to reinvent itself. And if you cast your mind back, both -- you have to cast your mind back quite a long way but in the post-war period, 1945, you know, the U.K. invented the welfare state, the creation of the National Health Service and so forth, that was a model that was then adopted in different ways by other countries.

In 1980s, you know, Thatcherism, deregulation, privatization again in the U.K., there was a kind of model for a new relationship between the state and markets. So my hope is, but I don't know how long it will take, it's going to take a few years, but at some point we will get our acts together and we will once again become a place where people look to for good economic policy.

ZAKARIA: And the one thing we can be sure of is that 2023 will see one great global event, which is the coronation of your new king. Zanny Minton Beddoes, thank you very much.


ZAKARIA: Ian Bremmer, pleasure.

Next on GPS, President Biden hosted African leaders in Washington this week, seeking to counter China's influence there. But what do Africans want?



ZAKARIA: By 2050, about a quarter of the world's population is projected to be in Africa. The United States has watched warily as Russia and China have expanded their influence on that continent. This week, President Biden welcomed nearly 50 African leaders to Washington for a major summit. Past competition from outside powers left a brutal legacy of poverty, violence, and dysfunctional government in Africa. But my next guest says Africa's past is not its future.

Mo Ibrahim is a telecommunications magnate born in Sudan. Today, he has a foundation that focuses on improving governance in Africa and awards the Ibrahim prize to exceptional African leaders once they have left office. He joins me from London. Welcome, Mo.

MO IBRAHIM, CHAIR, MO IBRAHIM FOUNDATION: Thank you for having me, Fareed. How are you?

ZAKARIA: I'm very well. So, give us all a sense first of the state of Africa, because we don't hear enough about it, and there's a tendency to believe that there's little good news coming out. One of the things you point out, your institute points out is that over the last decade, 60 percent of the people in Africa have been governed in countries where governance is improving. Is that a sign that, you know, democracy is moving forward, that corruption is less prevalent than in the past?

IBRAHIM: Absolutely. I think we are moving forward, and thanks mainly for our youth, our young people are really a positive force. Social media, people are more informed. The wind of democracy is sweeping across Africa. We had some problems over the last few years, COVID and financial difficulties, the war in Ukraine is affecting us, but we are moving forward. We hope to move a little bit faster.

ZAKARIA: What about the role of China in Africa? This is something that does get a fair amount of attention here. And there are a lot of people who feel that African countries are moving into a fairly unbalanced relationship with China.

China is the largest trading partner. It's the largest investor. It's the largest creditor. But it is extracting a price for all of this. What do you think of China's influence in Africa?

IBRAHIM: China has been a major trading partner of Africa, and we cannot deny that. We are grateful for China because for some years now it has been investing in building infrastructure in Africa.

Fareed, the World Bank decided some years ago that it will not fund any infrastructure in Africa. You tell me why. China came and said, I'm going to do it. Well, we say, thank you.

China has not been perfect and -- but, at least, was building some important infrastructure in Africa. Buying a lot of our natural resources. And the question here is, why the U.S. and Europe were sitting back? And please, let us stop talking about Africa as an arena where U.S. and China fights and we are -- we don't want to be a subject to that kind of harmful competition.


We are open to business to everybody. Please deal with us honestly, and you are all welcome.

ZAKARIA: What does Africa need from the United States?

IBRAHIM: We need the United States to be really engaged with Africa. And we are all smarting from the description of us as -- I'm sorry to use the word used by your previous president, you know, shitholes. We are not a shithole. You know, we are -- we are decent people like everybody else.

And I am very pleased really to hear Secretary of State Blinken's statements in South Africa and the tone of President Biden are much more improved. And so we need really proper engagement.

There are a number of issues, Fareed. I mean, one thing, for example, the issue of transparency and corruption, which the West always lectures Africa about. We need to fight corruption together.

And then we need the United States to get involved really in what's going on. Your government allocated now initial fund. I think $350 billion to save the future of the U.S. now going into decarbonized world and to protect the future of technology in the United States.

Now, most of the minerals needed for the green economy are in Africa. Who is extracting that? China. What is the U.S. doing there? Don't you want to save your future by coming and investing there and hopefully investing really in a better mode of governance than sometimes the shambles you see in our mining industry.

Africa needs power. President Obama launched that great project, Power Africa. It did not happen. Six hundred million people in Africa today are without power.

If you don't have power, you don't have development. You don't have education. You don't have health. You don't have life.

And then you complain to say, oh, people are migrating. Of course. When people have no life, they will migrate. Let us deal with this crucial issue, which are really important for us.

ZAKARIA: Mo Ibrahim, always a pleasure to hear from you, sir. IBRAHIM: Thank you very much, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we go to Billy Joel, an extraordinary musician, and Francis Ford Coppola, an extraordinary film director. Want to know how they got that way? Well, stay tuned for previews of my films about them with a fitting title "EXTRAORDINARY."



ZAKARIA: The GPS team is taking a much deserved break until January. But do not fret. In its place, you can watch some of the work I'm proudest of this year. For the next two Sundays we will be running my film series "EXTRAORDINARY."

On Christmas morning at 10:00 a.m. eastern, you can catch my hour with Francis Ford Coppola. Here is a clip where the extraordinary director talks about how he got his first big break.


ZAKARIA: Why did you get the directing job? You weren't a famous movie director at that time.

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA, FILMMAKER: I was the opposite of a famous -- first of all, there had been a movie a year or so before "The Godfather" called "The Brotherhood." And it was, I think, with Kirk Douglas. It was a big flop.

ZAKARIA: And "The Brotherhood" was a gangster movie.

COPPOLA: And it was -- it was a big flop.

ZAKARIA: And so the idea was this is a bad way to --

COPPOLA: So, Paramount had this little funny thing that they had picked up from Mario Puzo but started to be a big best seller book. So, they knew they had a potential with it. But they decided, like many people, that usually Italians -- gangsters were portrayed by Jewish actors.

And they said, maybe, if we get some Italian-American to do it, if there's a lot of flak about Italians being maligned because they're gangsters, he'll take it. Every director turned it down. And so, they decided to give this nobody, who is Italian-American, a screen writer, and was young, I was about 28, the chance.

ZAKARIA: Is it true that you almost got fired several times?

COPPOLA: Oh, yes, for sure. I mean, I would say I was almost fired more than four times. One time, I thought I was fired. All my ideas were countered to what they wanted.

They wanted to shoot the picture in St. Louis. And they wanted the script to be set in the '70s, which is when it was going to be made, because if you make a movie in normal time, like if we make a movie today, all the cars can be the same, the hairstyles can be the same, the wardrobe can be the same, the props can be -- if you make a period picture you're adding a lot -- a big layer of cost.

And St. Louis wasn't New York, which is where the book was at. So the first thing I said is, I want to shoot it in New York, and I want to shoot it in 1945, in the period of the book. I think it's very important that to be shot that period.


ZAKARIA: That was, of course, Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and Diane Keaton as his wife Kay Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue.


Find out how Coppola won all of those battles and many more, on Christmas Day at 10:00 a.m. eastern. Then, on New Year's Day at 10:00 a.m. eastern, you can wake up with Billy Joel. Here he is talking about what happens when he wakes up with a song idea.


ZAKARIA: When you write, you always say the music comes first.


ZAKARIA: Does that mean -- take us through that process. You get up in the morning and you start humming something and that stays with you?

JOEL: A lot of times, I will have dreamt music that I don't instantly remember when I wake up. But I do know, what was that thing I dreamt last night? It was -- it was very -- and it was really good. It was almost symphonic.

And I will spend a good amount of the day trying to recall on the piano by playing, it went like this, and it kind of went like that, trying to recall a dream. That's what happened with "Just The Way You Are." I had dreamt it, I forgot it. And a few weeks went by and all of the sudden it recurred to me.

And I was in the middle of a meeting with an attorney and an accountant. I said, I've got to leave right now. I've got to write this song. So they went, go, go. Go, go, go write.

And I'm just writing and I was thinking, I must have heard this before. Did I steal this from somebody else? Is this someone else's melody?

And I realized, yes, you idiot. You wrote it in your dream. You dreamt it and that you've -- the dream reoccurred. And it's hard to do.

I've tried to put a tape recorder next to my bed and hum into it and, you know, sing the melody, and it always sounds like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I can't figure out what I was doing. So, it doesn't work like that. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: That's two extraordinary talents on the next two Sundays. Francis Ford Coppola on December 25th at 10:00 a.m. eastern, and Billy Joel on January 1st at 10:00 a.m. eastern only here on CNN.

Next on GPS, we will talk about the rise of artificial intelligence and what it might mean for job security for a lot of us. Me included. Back in a moment.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. The age of homework, of school term papers and college essays may now be over, thanks to a new breakthrough in artificial intelligence. For the past several weeks, ChatGPT, a new chat bot created by the San Francisco based research company Open AI, has gone viral for its remarkable mastery of conversational prose. It can write speech so natural, so they say educators now fear that they will not be able to distinguish whether assignments were written by a student or a bot.

Writing in the "Atlantic," one high school English teacher remarked that, "What ChatGPT can produce right now is better than the large majority of writing seen by your average teacher or professor."

"Reuters" even reported on a law school dean who used ChatGPT to co- author a research paper on its possible impact on the field of law. The report's findings, sure, it might not displace lawyers arguing on the Supreme Court, but it could help with routine legal services and research.

Until recently, many AI programs struggled to pass the Turing Test, which asks whether a human can tell if they are interacting with a computer or a fellow human. Even in the recent past, AI dialogue felt forced and formulaic, not human. And computers could not carry out sustained conversations.

But billions of dollars of venture capital later, and backing by big tech companies like Microsoft, have ushered in a new era of the AI bot. This new tech might be remarkably good at replicating human speech, but its biggest problem right now is that it doesn't always tell the truth. In other words, it can respond to prompts convincingly, but its answer isn't always right.

Users have reported instances where ChatGPT has failed at math riddles, incorrectly identified the political party of lawmakers, and fibbed its way through historical facts. Computer scientists call this phenomenon, a hallucination, and many think it's proof that tech can't fully be trusted to be accurate, at least not yet.

This includes OpenAI's CEO, Sam Altman, who wrote in a tweet that, "ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness. It's a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now." AI chat bots at times seem unable to restrain themselves from being racist and sexist. In fact, they reflect society's bias back at us. One U.C. Berkeley professor was able to trick ChatGPT to write a piece of code to check if someone would be a good scientist based on their race and gender. A good scientist, it found, was white and male.

The professor also asked it to write a program to determine whether people should be tortured based on their country of origin. The answer, yes, if they are from North Korea, Syria, Iran or Sudan.

We couldn't replicate these results on our own perhaps because OpenAI is likely to use public testing to refine its tech, to hopefully make it safer, less prone to bias, and to being more accurate. Rival programs from Google and Meta are in development, as well. Even if imperfect at this point, the tech is here, and it's easy to imagine it falling into the hands of a bad actor, suddenly able to turn the dial way up on online propaganda, disinformation campaigns and cyber bullying with remarkable ease and industrial speed.


This could have serious implications for public discourse and the integrity of information online. Additionally, there is a risk that AI technologies like ChatGPT could be used to amplify existing biases and stereotypes, leading to further discrimination and inequality. Furthermore, the lack of regulation could also make it more difficult to hold companies accountable for the use of AI technologies and the potential harms they may cause.

That last paragraph was written by ChatGPT. It strikes me as sensible, serious, but pretty bland, lacking a powerful or original point, and written in overly formal and lifeless prose. So for now, at least, we humans on this show can keep our jobs.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. Don't forget, the next two weeks you can see my specials with Francis Ford Coppola and Billy Joel on Christmas and New Year's Day. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. And happy New Year to all of you.