Communicative Intent

The term “communicative intent” describes the underlying message that a human is trying to get across when they are speaking with / writing to / generating art for another human to interpret. As humans, we build on our existing models of the world and our experiences to interpret one’s communicative intent when we engage with another person.

One of the challenges with large language models and artificial intelligence is that there is no fundamental communicative intent from the model itself – AI chat bots are huge statistical algorithms predicting text in a way that makes it look like human-generated text. But humans who read the text are primed to interpret these outputs as having communicative intent, because they mimic our own behavioral patterns so accurately.

To say that these programs are completely void of communicative intent, though, is also not a complete statement. The companies building these software systems are comprised of individuals who are trying to communicate – but it’s likely not what you think. The end user of these tools continue to be a source of profit for many of these companies, as people funnel massive amounts of data into the models.

Textual language, though, is only one facet of what we communicate. Every exchange that we have with another human is building off of our existing relationships, feelings, and emotions that we have about a company or individual. I have an inherent distrust of OpenAI, for example, because I don’t trust their original funders, who donate millions of dollars to far-right political candidates and support Nazis on their platforms under the guise of “freedom of expression”. I am skeptical of Microsoft because of how I was treated as an employee there, subject to gender-based harassment and humiliation at the hands of older male employees. This context has nothing to do with the tools that they’re building, but the communicative intent from those two organizations is clear: they do not support people like me.

When we are children, we are taught that “actions speak louder than words” – and yet, here we are, running forward as fast as we can possibly muster at the expense of the most marginalized towards a hegemonic representation of the world.

The human condition is an eternal balance between one’s ability to nurture and support the self while also remaining part of a community and the needs of the whole. I am thankful for the growing community who is looking for alternative methods to building systems that may allow us to escape the dominance of “big tech” – trillion dollar companies that seem focused on increasing individual productivity and further submerging us into the depths of loneliness and self-loathing in order to support an economy that grows at all costs.

Remember – if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.