A characteristic of cyberspace is its potential for infinity. In a printed newspaper, to take the most obvious example, sooner or later every text must come to an end. The column ends, the page demands to be turned. Theoretically, online journalism can always go on; only the exhaustion of author, reader, or subject marks a kind of natural limit, a dead end that one could cross, but it's not worth crossing.
It is similar with the new eloquent artificial intelligence (AI), with ChatGPT and its successor technology GPT-4, which was presented this week. Fed with an almost unbelievable number of parameters – 175 billion were the case with GPT-3, with which ChatGPT is still running for the time being, 100 trillion are with the successor, which appeared only a few months later – they chatter with millions of people at the same time. The masses of text they generated would, if they were to be bound and placed on shelves, burst all physical libraries within a very short space of time. With one exception.
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges came up with the “Library of Babel” in 1941 in a short story of the same name. There the world, apparently the entire cosmos, consists of nothing but galleries stuffed with books, which are lined up in hexagons, horizontally and vertically, up to the highest heights and immeasurable abysses. Suicidal people who despair about this mysterious world throw themselves over the railing into the depths. Their bodies are said to decompose in never-ending flight.
Some people worship the books as incarnations of an all-knowing god, others seek out crimes and throw identified specimens down the dreadful abyss. But that's not as bad as it sounds, the narrator explains, because "each copy is unique, irreplaceable, but since the library is total, there are always some hundreds of thousands of imperfect facsimiles: works that differ by just a letter or a comma." .
Almost all contain only nonsensical gibberish. Current cosmology assumes that the library contains every possible combination of the 25 characters (the punctuation makes do with periods and commas). Now and then a meaningful sentence appears, somewhere, undiscovered, the works of Shakespeare and even Borges must also be.
The new chatbots create language in a similar way. They operate with smaller units of meaning than words, namely with prefixes and endings, which they put together without rhyme or reason, solely on the basis of proud probabilities, until the person reading them rubs their eyes in amazement. In retrospect, the blind Borges turns out to be clairvoyant in an almost magical way. He writes: "Perhaps old age and anxiety deceive me, but I suspect that the human species will soon be extinct and that the library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, utterly immobile, armed with precious volumes, useless, imperishable, secret."