Why is fire?

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This question came from a three year old, many years ago, when Charles and I used to blacksmith at Hillside Gardens. Well… he used to blacksmith and I was a shitty apprentice. Yes, we cursed, we also drank while we worked. We were blacksmiths.

This kiddo had been coming to these outdoor concerts, gardens, and hanging out near the blacksmith since he was a baby. As he learned to talk, he became very curious about Charles’ work and asked lots of questions, as kids do, in a beautifully spontaneous way. The one that really got Charles, was “Why is fire?” And Charles just laughed, shook his head, and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” And often bought it up for years to come, just casually saying “Why is fire.” Here and there, from time to time.

I never really knew if he was laughing at not knowing why/how fire works, or if he was laughing at the phrasing, the curiosity, the spontaneity, something else, all of those things. My ideas around this change, and we’ve never really gotten too far into the why, ourselves.

Laying awake at 4:32am on a Sunday morning. Often awake at this hour, I starting thinking about how these new language models, and expanded use, feels like early humans discovering fire. So I decided to have a conversation with one about it.

Here’s me talking with ChatGPT-4 about a metaphor I was trying to put together:

Anna: Compare, and write a metaphor about, humans discovering and exploring with ai in todays world, with early humans discovering and exploring with fire. How are ai and fire going to change the world in similar ways?

GPT-4: In the dawn of human civilization, the discovery and harnessing of fire marked a pivotal moment, much like the emergence of AI in today’s modern world. Fire, a seemingly magical force, was to early humans a powerful ally, providing warmth, safety, and the ability to cook food. It brought light to the darkness, allowing for an expansion of possibilities and the exploration of the unknown. Similarly, AI has emerged as a transformative force, igniting a new era of innovation and exploration, revealing the limitless potential of human ingenuity.

The relationship between early humans and fire can be likened to our dance with AI. Just as fire required careful handling and respect to prevent its destructive power from being unleashed, so too must we approach AI with caution, ensuring that its development remains ethical, responsible, and beneficial. In the right hands, fire enabled the growth of communities, technology, and knowledge, forging pathways to previously uncharted territories. AI, much like fire, has the potential to forge new paths, enabling us to explore the vast expanse of data and ideas, illuminating our understanding of the world around us.

Fire served as a catalyst for change, revolutionizing the way early humans lived, worked, and interacted with one another. AI holds similar promise, transforming industries, communication, and the very fabric of our lives. As fire allowed early humans to expand their horizons and explore new lands, AI empowers us to delve deeper into the realms of science, medicine, art, and beyond, broadening our knowledge and capabilities.

In essence, the story of AI is akin to that of fire—a powerful and transformative force that, when harnessed responsibly, can propel humanity towards new heights, illuminating the path to a brighter future. The flames of AI, like those of fire, must be tended with care and wisdom, ensuring that we foster a world where the light of innovation shines brightly, guiding us towards progress and unity.

Beautiful, and I like the comparison. But, it’s a bit wordy for me this morning. My attempt to get it shorter:

Anna: Rewrite as short as possible.

GPT-4: AI is the modern equivalent of fire in early human civilization. Both are transformative forces that, when harnessed responsibly, propel humanity to new heights. Like fire, AI requires careful handling to ensure ethical development and prevent unintended consequences. With wisdom and care, AI can illuminate our path to a brighter future, just as fire revolutionized the lives of our ancestors.

Better, but still not short enough for me right now. My next try, set a limit. Is that part of our role with ai, setting the limits?

Anna: Rewrite 7 words.

GPT-4: AI mirrors fire’s transformative impact on humanity.

That made me do the frown nod of approval, the “not bad” feeling, I can run with that. Heck I even though I might write a blog post with that title. Seems true.

But then I sat.

And was just contemplating.

When I thought of that 3 year old from years ago and this metaphor I was trying to create. So I asked…

Anna: Why is fire?

GPT-4: Fire is a chemical reaction called combustion, which occurs when a material (usually organic) reacts with oxygen, releasing heat and light energy. It has been a vital resource for humans throughout history, providing warmth, protection, and enabling cooking. Fire has played a significant role in the development of human civilization by driving technological advancements, shaping social structures, and facilitating exploration.

That is more of the how is fire, and what has fire done answer, so I tried to limit the response with the following request.

Anna: Explain it in 5 words to a 3 yr old.

GPT-4: Fire: hot, bright, helps people.

And maybe that’s why fire is. It just is, but here are the things it does.

So I sat again.


Thinking of that 3 year old.

And I asked…

Anna: Why is ai?

And without prompting to be short this time, here is the answer I received.

GPT-4: AI: smart computers, helps humans.

Which genuinely made me laugh. So much so that I wanted to tell Charles. So I wrote this post and emailed him.

What a fun way to start a Sunday. 🙂

One response to “Why is fire?”

  1. chicogirlinfrance1975 Avatar

    More please

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