Can AI explain the sewage in the water?

I used to think that the hardest part about writing a weekly blog was the idea itself.  I often write about something that’s happened to me during the previous 7 days from my job, maybe music or broadcasting or people I have met. There might be an anniversary or special event coming up on the day of publishing that sets me off on my 1200 word jog.  Often it will be a story in the news that has captured my attention. Once I have the idea, well anyone could do it?

This week I’ve been, how shall I put it, very exercised about the apparent casual relationship between the government, the water companies and water pollution. Damian Greene the former cabinet minister who was forced to resign from Theresa May’s government went onto the ITV ‘Peston’ Show and said, and I quote,

“I remember as a child in south Wales, swimming in sewage…It was sort of regarded as acceptable”

He did then correct his apparent faux pas by saying it wasn’t acceptable but really????

The other story that’s been in the news and on my mind has been Artificial Intelligence or AI. It’s going to all of our lives in the same way that the printing press changed the world. It’s starting to be seen already.  This week British Telecom announced plans to cut 55,000 from the work force and replace some of them with AI.

So that’s 2 stories in the news, how would I link them for this column?  Then I had a brainwave, I would ask Google’s AI system ‘Bard’ to write my article for me. 

If you’ve not used AI it’s pretty straight forward.  You go onto the AI website, type in a question and 30 seconds later you get your answer.  I wanted the article about sewage in the sea to still be ‘personal’, so I thought I’d make Langland Bay my focus.  I love the bay; I swim there in the summer and I take my grand kids into the sea for a paddle.  Water pollution in the sea is a big thing for me Mr Damian Green.

This was my first question

‘Write me a 1200 essay on Langland Bay, Swansea. Include information about the blue flag award, how clean the water is in the Bay and the work of Surfers against sewage.’

The first attempt was factual and read a bit like a school project.

‘Langland Bay is a popular coastal holiday resort in Gower, Swansea in south Wales. It is a popular surfing beach which regularly meets the European Blue Flag award for quality.’

The Blue Flag award is a prestigious environmental award that is given to beaches and marinas that meet high standards of cleanliness, safety and environmental management. Langland Bay has been awarded the Blue Flag for many years, and it is one of only a few beaches in Wales to have this distinction.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is a charity that works to protect the UK’s beaches and oceans from sewage pollution. SAS campaigns for better sewage treatment and disposal, and they also work to raise awareness of the issue of sewage pollution among the public.’

It then went on to give some bullet points about how we can work together to reduce water pollution finishing with…

‘By taking these steps, we can help to protect Langland Bay from sewage pollution and ensure that it remains a beautiful and healthy place for everyone to enjoy.’

OK I thought that’s not a bad start. 

It was only when I looked a bit closer that I saw it had given as the source of its information.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langland_Bay  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  The ‘AI’ has to get it’s ‘facts’ from somewhere.  It just got me thinking, how reliable is Wikipedia? If all AI does is search the internet for any ‘facts’ anyone has posted online whether true or false then my article could be a load of nonsense.  The AI hadn’t seemed to do any fact checking on whether the information was true, it had just regurgitated what it found.

The other thing I was disappointed about was the ‘essay’ didn’t sound very human. I decided to change my request to…

‘Write me a 1200 ‘conversational style’ essay on Langland Bay, Swansea. Include information about the blue flag award, how clean the water is in the Bay and the work of Surfers against sewage.’

This is it’s next attempt…

I love Langland Bay. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I grew up in Swansea, and I’ve been going to Langland Bay since I was a little kid. It’s always been a special place for me.

Langland Bay is also a great place to surf. The waves are perfect for beginners and experienced surfers alike. There are a few different surf spots in the bay, so you can find one that’s right for you.

Thanks to the efforts of SAS and others, the water quality in Langland Bay is improving all the time. The bay is now a safe and enjoyable place to swim, surf, and relax.

I’m proud to support Surfers Against Sewage. I believe that everyone has the right to enjoy clean beaches, and I’m glad that SAS is working’

Well that’s definitely a more personal essay even if it did use the American way to spell ‘favourite’ but it still doesn’t sound like me…its sounds ‘artificial’.

These are early and I’m sure over time AI will get better, but does that mean it will get more intelligent. What it got me thinking was that we already live in a world of ‘Artificial Intelligence’.  We have a world full of ‘experts’.  People who have trawled the darkest reaches of the internet for their conspiracy theories. They then regurgitate them in much the same way that these early versions of Chatgpt do.

It was the government minister Michael Gove who said ‘People have had enough of experts’ although he later claimed that’s not what he meant. He said it with such authority that people believed him.

The problem for me with AI is that it will gain that same sense of authority.  If Chatgpt says it well it must be true.  The danger is we might take its Intelligence at face value but as they always say with computers, garbage in…. garbage out.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say was dumping sewage in our seas was never right and it’s certainly not right now and there is no excuse or defence for it happening. I also wanted to say Langland Bay is beautiful, and it is my ‘favourite’ place and AI still has some way to go.



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