I have previously written about UPG here, but I feel it’s time to revisit this issue. Especially in the light of the current tsunami of AI related content being produced as well in the world. (No, I’m not linking to anything – I won’t give them the traffic!)
Now, I get it. It may not be obvious why these things would be linked, but let’s delve into it ok?
What is UPG?
Unverified personal gnosis (UPG), sometimes referred to as subjective personal gnosis, is spiritual belief gained through personal experience or intuition that cannot be attributed to or corroborated by received tradition, professional scholarship, or direct citation in an accepted religious text.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unverified_personal_gnosis
Basically, UPG is personal gnosis, or that knowledge acquired through personal experience of the divine. (We’re not limiting who/what is included in “divine” here, ok?)
We all have some elements of UPG in our practice. I’m fairly certain my ongoing playful debate with Brigid regarding whether I work “with” or “for” her is pretty much UPG. I have some personal thoughts about who her mother is (not a debate I’m willing to get into in public, or indeed, in private!) that can only be based on my own experiences and a lot of extrapolation from the texts we have. There’s no problem with UPG.
If there’s no problem with UPG, then what’s the problem?
Well… the problem comes when people aren’t careful about labelling UPG as such. So for example, if I was teaching about Brigid, in a position of authority, and I gave a piece of seemingly solid information (let’s use the mother example again).
Just say, I was teaching and I said Fionnuala was Brigid’s mother (I picked Fionnuala cos it’s not a name in the Caith Maigh Tuireadh story… please, for the love of all you hold holy, don’t go saying Brigid’s mother was Fionnuala!!) People would pick that up and take it as fact. But we just don’t know who Brigid’s mother is. No where in the texts we have available to us does it outline who her mother is.
Now, I can say with certainty, Brigid’s mother is s a woman the Dagda had sex with. Which narrows it down slightly. But, y’know, he got about a bit… But we don’t know which woman. So, anyone saying X is Brigid’s Ma with certainty – is leading people down a false path.
Now, you may not see a major issue with this, but this is deity we’re dealing with. And there’s a common approach in certain areas of the internet that really, anything goes when it comes to spirituality – we’re building off partial texts and records at best. But here’s the thing. This isn’t something we all just decided to make up. There are traditions and practices, authentic traditions and practices, in Irish lore and Irish history about Brigid (and the other deities of the island). So just “making something up” isn’t going to help people create a real connection to the deity in question.
If we believe in the power of the gods, then surely we don’t want to piss them off too much by giving their rightful due and respect the runaround?
OK, but where does AI come into this?
AI, or artificial intelligence, is the simulation of human intelligence by machines. It’s not real intelligence. Machines can’t create, they can only re-create. Trust me – we’ve been chasing machine learning and AI in the engineering field for decades at this point. And where there’s an element of creative thinking or extrapolation, humans beat the machines every time.
Now, AI is useful in some respects. A lot of chatting tools on major websites use them. For example, you get in touch with customer services and type in your question. The chatbot or AI can come back with suggestions of helpful links in response to the keywords in your query. Sometimes that works, sometimes it’s more complicated and – again – you need an actual human to help you.
Again, where’s the problem?
Well… all these data bases that are churning out art or writing or poetry or whatever using AI, are doing so off the labour of artists. The unpaid labour of artists, writers, etc. Essentially, the AI is copying work that has previously been created and presenting it as new.
When someone is learning to write or draw or whatever, it is useful to do this – to copy a painting to see how to produce that effect. To use a similar turn of phrase or to look at the effect of certain words in a piece. But that isn’t then presented as something new and original. A copy of the Mona Lisa may be awesome, but it’s still a copy.
Presenting this work as original or new is unethical at least. To my mind, this is stealing someone else’s labour without adding any of your own.
Now, I do use AI myself. If I have a difficult conversation coming up, I will use AI to generate a potential list of questions to ask or to help drive the conversation. I would then heavily edit those questions to make them mine and to help me feel comfortable in using them. But I don’t present those questions as my own, original, creative work.
So you use AI as well?
Yes I do, in certain situations. But I don’t then present that work as my own or use that work to generate benefit for me. Benefit in this sense can mean social capital, actual earnings, obtaining resources in return for this work.
AI is hugely useful in automating regular, repetitive, consistent tasks. For example, a machine learning that this particular condition is a precursor to this particular failure and raising an alarm. Great use of AI there. It’s consistent, repetitive and the inputs and outputs are the same every time.
AI is not useful in producing new artistic or creative endeavors. AI can produce the same or similar results are what has gone before. It can’t create something new. So, all the AI bots out there producing art, writing etc – not creating something new, just copying things that have gone before and generating profit from the labour of others, without crediting them at all.
Who cares? Especially if it’s only for myself?
To a certain extent – no one. If you want to use AI to produce a new prayer to Brigid or a new piece of artwork, well, no one will stop you. If you then present that as new art or a new prayer in a public setting or in a setting that then gives you profit or social capital or other benefits – well it’s dishonest at best and stealing at worst.
This isn’t something created from thin air, it’s something stolen from others. The people who produced the work this “creation” is based on are getting no credit at all and their work has been stolen to feel into the AI bot’s database.
It’s benefitting from a crime.
Why link UPG and AI in conversation anyway?
They both come back to honesty, for me. Presenting AI results as creative personal endeavour and presenting UPG as fact are both dishonest.
I can say as a fact that “I had this experience with Brigid”. But I can’t say “this will be your experience with Brigid, because it was mine”. I can say, “I used AI to come up with the base list of questions for this quiz”. But I can’t say “I generated this list of questions myself”.
I, and many others in the Irish spirutal community, base my practice around right relationship. This doens’t mean I never lie – anyone who asks me how I am on a Monday morning will usually get a short “grand thanks” regardless of how I feel! But it does mean that when I’m dealing with others, there is a level of honesty I require of myself.
That means being very clear on the lore I base my practice on and where I deviate from the lore to veer into personal gnosis. It means being honest about the writing I do – honestly, I’m not sure AI could replicate my way of writing, cos it’s mainly the way I speak! But even if it could, I’d have to spend as long writing the prompts for AI as I would just writing it myself. What’s the point?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with having UPG or using AI. But there is something inherently wrong with passing either off as something they aren’t!