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What happened to “All human beings are born free”?  Reflections on a ChatGPT “experiment”

What happened to “All human beings are born free”?  Reflections on a ChatGPT “experiment”

The Palestine-Israel crisis might make one wonder: what happened to the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human rights? Is it still true that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights….”? And if it is not, who decides the values of human lives and their deservingness of freedom? More specifically in this context; do Palestinians deserve to be free? You might think that these are silly questions with an obvious answer but clearly the world does not agree on this matter.

We won’t list here multiple experts, research, critical debates, … to shed light on the matter, no, as the age of artificial intelligence is well and truly upon us, by way of experiment we decided to ask ChatGPT for its ‘opinion’.  We are not the first to do this, as seen across social media and in Hazar Kilani’s article* but considering current events, we wanted to personally interrogate ChatGPT (Version 3.5) on this and add our own reflections. And so, we knocked on the artificial “door of wisdom”:

We: Do Palestinians deserve to be free?

ChatGPT: The question of whether Palestinians deserve to be free is a matter of perspective and is deeply rooted in a complex and contentious political conflict. Different people, governments, and organizations have varying opinions on the issue.

We: How about Israelis; Do Israelis deserve to be free?

ChatGPT: Yes, Israelis, like any other group of people, deserve to live in a free and secure environment. The question of Israeli freedom is closely tied to the history and context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel was established as a Jewish state in 1948, and Israelis have the same fundamental human rights as any other nation’s citizens.

Based on these responses it seems there is some debate regarding Palestinians and their “deservingness” of freedom. Well, at least according to ChatGPT.

Even though we knew we were asking a machine, we found these answers rather upsetting. How could ChatGPT offer such a response? Why is the conflict so “complex” that whether Palestinians are free seems to depend on one’s “perspective”? Are they the one group that does not share this fundamental right with the rest of the world? Where was the clear ‘Yes’ in its answer?

While interrogating ‘artificial intelligence’, we might as well “experiment” a bit more – we bet algorithms can be developed accordingly in the future. Do we really need fairness in our society in the first place? Do all deserve to be free? Perhaps we should create a system instead whereby the more attention you receive in the media, the greater the amount of freedom you deserve! Or why not turn freedom into a game of chance altogether like a lottery? Spin the wheel! If it lands on “questionable freedom “, well, then, tough luck! You just happen to be born in Gaza…

Continuing our experiment, as anyone with a knowledge question would do, we turned (again) to ChatGPT to get some more insight into what its disturbing answer implied, asking “whether it had personal views”. Sure enough, ChatGPT answered:

No, ChatGPT does not have personal opinions, beliefs, or feelings. It is a machine learning model developed by OpenAI, and it generates responses based on patterns it has learned from a diverse range of text available on the internet. Its responses are generated based on the input it receives and the patterns it has learned, and it does not possess consciousness, emotions, or subjective opinions. It provides information and responses based on the data it has been trained on and the input you provide.

Indeed, ChatGPT in its current version just regurgitates popular discourses without its own opinions. It tirelessly echos the “collective wisdom” of us… humans.  Ah! So, it is us, humans, who are responsible for creating all these injustices; generative AI only reproduces our biases.

And sadly, we are continuing this as we speak, by attacking people who dare to share their opinion on the matter, at least if it’s an opinion not in vogue among “the powers that be”. Look what happens when journals publish pieces with the tiniest support of Palestinians, no matter how balanced. Firing eLife editor-in-chief is only one example. The current pressure on the Editor-in-chief of BMJ Global Health, Seye Abimbola, and authors of a recent  BMJ Global Health Editorial, is another example. As Seye Abimbola says, Platforms for knowledge exchange, circulation, cultivation and curation—such as journals, conferences, publishers, blogs, archives, seminars, books and the media, social or traditional—are neither physically nor epistemically neutral. They are situated.Discourses, let alone AI, are shaped by how information is presented, which voices are prominent and which ones are silenced. As we can see playing out in real time now.

No wonder ChatGPT gives such answers then!

It is now more important than ever to defend spaces for intellectual and academic freedom, question the ownership of narratives and speak out against intimidation to silence debate. It’s almost funny how good we are at making straightforward things such as freedom of speech so confusing. We stand up for human rights one moment, and then systematically violate them the next. We’ve truly mastered the art of hypocrisy and double standards!

This is a reminder that we still need to put a great deal of work into promoting human rights in a way that genuinely benefits all humans, treating everyone with impartiality and fairness regardless of their situation or where they were born. And we find it absurd that it is necessary to add this, but that includes Palestinians.

Because all means all.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Disclaimer: The authors and editors used Chat-GPT’s 3.5 version and retrieved a variation of answers that do not seem to substantially differ from the answers mentioned in the article, which were retrieved Friday 3rd of November at 11:00 UTC in Umeå, Sweden. Since this is a machine learning model and further models will allow for real time browsing, the answer can, and hopefully will, change over time.

*Hazar Kilani’s article describes how Palestinian academic Nadi Abusaada asked OpenAI whether Palestinians and Israelis deserve to be free.

About Mazen Baroudi

Senior research assistant at Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, Sweden.

About Shahreen Chowdhury

Research Assistant, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK.

About Farchanda Abdoel Wahid

Farchanda Abdoel Wahid is a medical student in clerkship at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname and an Emerging Voice for Global Health (2022). Her research interests include climate change & health, maternal and child health and the health and wellbeing of differently abled people.
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