The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently high on the political agenda, and will shape the way we work and interact with one another in the coming years and decades. But just how reliable is it in early 2024? To put it to the test, we decided to ask ChatGPT about “population collapse”.
AI is very likely to have an impact on all of us in the near future, both for good and for bad. While there remains a lot of uncertainty and a fair amount of doom mongering, we are already seeing it used to streamline the way in which we work and just this week the IMF have warned that AI will likely affect 40% of jobs.
ChatGPT is a computer program that uses advanced artificial intelligence to understand and generate human-like text, making it capable of engaging in conversation on various topics.”ChatGPT, describing ChatGPT
We thought we’d pose ChatGPT a question and analyse the results to get a feel for its accuracy and intelligibility on a complex subject. Asking it to write a 500-word blog about “population collapse”, it came up with the text below. We’ve inserted short comments below each section.
The Looming Crisis: “Unraveling the Fabric of Society” in the Face of Population Collapse
ChatGPT: In the grand tapestry of human civilization, one of the most pressing and overlooked challenges is the ominous specter of population collapse. While the world has been preoccupied with issues such as climate change and technological advancements, the silent and gradual decline in global population poses a profound threat to the very fabric of society. This blog explores the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to address the impending crisis of population collapse.
PM: We asked ChatGPT to write a blog piece, so we appreciate that it is trying to grab the reader immediately but the framing here is, to be kind, off the mark. Phrases such as “..most pressing and overlooked challenges is the ominous specter of population collapse”, “preoccupied with issues such as climate change” and “the silent and gradual decline in global population poses a profound threat to the very fabric of society” all require further examination.
Let’s be absolutely clear, the “ominous specter of population collapse” simply doesn’t exist. We continue to add a billion people to the world’s population every 12-15 years and the population will very likely keep growing until the latter part of the 21st century. To call the issue a “preoccupation” seriously downplays the existential threat we all face from climate change. Furthermore, as noted above, there is absolutely no risk of a “silent and gradual decline in global population” being on the cards for at least half a century. Not something you’d know from reading ChatGPT’s account.
Causes of Population Collapse
ChatGPT: Multiple factors contribute to the decline in population across the globe. Firstly, changing demographic trends, with declining birth rates and aging populations in many developed countries, are at the forefront of this crisis. Economic uncertainties, changing social norms, and increased access to education are among the myriad reasons leading to delayed marriages and fewer children.
Secondly, environmental stressors, exacerbated by climate change, impact fertility rates and reproductive health. Pollution, resource depletion, and the disruption of ecosystems contribute to a decline in overall human well-being, affecting reproductive health and birth outcomes.
PM: This is all wrong. We’re not sure even Elon Musk, one of the world’s foremost decriers of “population collapse”, would make the claim that there is a “decline in population across the globe”.
Moving past that, declining birth rates and ageing populations are indeed important factors when discussing demographic trends, so ChatGPT can have that (although, again, we reject the framing of it). Most of all, though, having set this up as an existential threat and a “crisis”, the reference to “increased education” as a key cause certainly needs more context.
Education is indeed one of the key solutions that can help curb population growth. In low income countries where population growth tends to be highest, there is a direct correlation between the number of years a woman spends in education and how many children she ends up having. Educated women have more economic opportunities, more autonomy and more control of their reproductive lives. This is a positive to be celebrated, not a threat.
Is education the magic bullet?
Consequences of Population Collapse
ChatGPT: The ramifications of population collapse are far-reaching and extend beyond mere demographic numbers. Economically, a shrinking workforce poses challenges for sustained economic growth. The burden on social welfare systems increases as the elderly population grows, straining healthcare and pension systems. Moreover, a dwindling population can lead to a decline in innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, hindering societal progress.
Socially, a shrinking population can result in a distorted age pyramid, with an inverted structure where the elderly outnumber the youth. This dynamic can lead to increased social isolation for the elderly, a lack of support systems, and a potential breakdown in intergenerational connections. Furthermore, the decline in population can affect cultural diversity, potentially threatening the preservation of languages, traditions, and heritage.
PM: This is where we can get in behind the ChatGPT line of “thought” a bit more. It is right to say that there are significant associated challenges, although again, it seems to be addressing reduced birth rates more than “population collapse”, which are not the same thing.
Fewer people of working age and ageing societies do pose problems, both economic and social, but what is required are inventive, thoughtful and inclusive policies to counteract this. The insinuation that older people can’t be innovative, creative or entrepreneurial is absurd. Perhaps, putting more faith in the capabilities of the over 60s is a good place to start.
Addressing the Crisis
ChatGPT: To tackle the issue of population collapse, a multifaceted approach is essential. Governments and policymakers must implement pro-family policies that support work-life balance, affordable childcare, and incentives for larger families. Investing in education and healthcare, particularly in regions facing the steepest declines, can help create an environment conducive to family formation.
Environmental sustainability efforts are crucial in addressing the impact of climate change on reproductive health. Promoting green technologies, reducing pollution, and safeguarding ecosystems contribute not only to a healthier planet but also to improved human fertility.
Additionally, embracing immigration as a viable solution can mitigate the negative effects of population collapse. Countries experiencing declining populations can benefit from the infusion of diverse cultures, skills, and perspectives brought by immigrants. A thoughtful and inclusive immigration policy can rejuvenate economies, support aging populations, and contribute to societal resilience.
PM: The idea that government must offer incentives for larger families is deeply problematic. Look around the world today and you can point to a number of governments engaging in this rhetoric, including Victor Orban in Hungary and Giorgia Meloni in Italy, often with significant nationalistic undertones. A government’s job should be to create the environment where those that want to are able to have children, not lead with incentives that seek to impose it.
Investing in education and healthcare is incredibly important, but despite what ChatGPT say, it is proven that people have fewer children later in life when they stay in education longer and have access to healthcare.
ChatGPT: Population collapse is an intricate challenge that demands immediate attention and concerted efforts on a global scale. Understanding the causes and consequences of this crisis is the first step toward implementing effective solutions. By fostering a supportive environment for families, addressing environmental concerns, and embracing immigration, humanity can navigate the turbulent waters of population decline and weave a new narrative of sustainable and resilient societies.
PM: No, “population collapse” is a frenzied term often used by people with ulterior motives and doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. Understanding the causes and consequences of demographic changes is absolutely essential, but the two should not be confused. As for a supportive environment for families, agreed, if it is just that, support, not an attempt to get people to have more children than they might otherwise.
Looking at this, we think the machines still have some way to go before they’re coming for all of our jobs. The biggest issue is, while the initial request to ChatGPT was neutral (although the word collapse has obvious negative connotations), the resulting blog looked at “population collapse” as a global phenomenon that we are experiencing, probably won’t be able to turn around and will continue to suffer dire consequences from.
While we very much sit on one side of the fence, we think even an ardent proponent of the “population collapse” theory would struggle to stand behind these arguments or the ways in which they’re framed. Although if Elon Musk would like to challenge that assumption, we’re all ears!