Qwertyman No. 30: Alternatives to Cha-cha

Qwertyman for Monday, February 27, 2023

WE PINOYS know—as night follows day—that every time a new administration comes to power, a fresh initiative emerges to amend the 1987 post-EDSA Constitution. Fidel V. Ramos tried it with his ill-fated PIRMA campaign, followed by Joseph Estrada’s “Constitutional Correction for Development,” the attempt of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s congressional allies to form a constituent assembly without the Senate, and even Noynoy Aquino’s reported openness to giving the President a second term. Rodrigo Duterte included “charter change” or cha-cha in his platform and tried to push it until Covid came.

Most Filipinos, let’s admit it, don’t even know what the Constitution contains, but a few of us seem hell-bent on changing whatever is in there. Never, of course, for selfish reasons like extending term limits (now why would we even suspect our politicos capable of such nefarious designs?) but for “economic provisions only” (although extending one’s term limit is a very healthy economic provision, as far as I can tell). 

Cha-cha is in the air once again, fellow citizens, going around the House and Senate like a marching band, despite President Marcos Jr.’s public disavowal of support for the proposal. 

Even the National Economic and Development Authority’s estimate that cha-cha—the convention and the plebiscite—could cost as much as P28 billion (yes, that’s a B) isn’t likely to deter its proponents from advancing their cause. With more than five years to go under BBM, a lot of plausible reasons could be found for coughing up that money. Why, even the President could change his mind over that period, persuaded perhaps by a groundswell of demand for cha-cha that he can’t possibly ignore. (Why am I suddenly thinking of that pool resort in Cavite with the artificial wave machine that we so enjoyed last summer?)

Perplexed by this insistence on the need for cha-cha now, I turned to my favorite chatmate, sounding board, and political counselor—ChatGPT—for some answers and explanations. (I know what you’re thinking—I’m just making all of this up—but no: I actually paid good money for this app, so I’m going to get  my money’s worth. If you don’t believe me, try asking it the same questions.) Here’s a transcript of my conversation with ChatGPT:

ChatGPT: Hello, How can I assist you?

Qwertyman: How important is cha-cha to the Philippines?

ChatGPT: Cha-cha is an important dance to the Philippines, as it represents their culture and traditions. It holds a special place in the hearts of many Filipinos and is regarded as a national dance. It is often performed in public gatherings and celebrations to bring people together and express joy and happiness.

(Hmmm, I don’t know where you got that, ChatGPT. Pinoys who remember Nestor de Villa and “Dancetime with Chito” might have a hankering for the cha-cha, but I don’t see any great demand for it from millennials or even their parents. Are you sure it’s that special to us?)

Qwertyman: Why cha-cha? Why not the twist or the shingaling?

ChatGPT: The cha-cha is a distinctive Latin dance with an easily recognizable beat, which makes it easy to follow. It’s also more graceful and flowing than other partner dances, making it well-suited to more formal events. In addition, its pattern of three steps forward and two steps back is easy to learn, making it a great choice for beginners.

(That’s what worries me, ChatGPT. As you say, it’s “a great choice for beginners,” which is probably why a rookie senator is on top of the process. Some of us are also worried that cha-cha will mean two steps forward and three steps back.)

Qwertyman: But what if people just want to sit down and not do the cha-cha?

ChatGPT: That’s perfectly fine! There are many ways to have fun and enjoy one another’s company without having to do the cha-cha. You could play board games, cards, watch a movie, listen to music, engage in conversation, etc. Whatever makes you and the people around you comfortable and entertained is the best way to go!

(Totally agree! Someone should tell our esteemed lawmakers that they can do this, too—play board games, cards, watch a movie, listen to music, engage in conversation—rather than tinker with the Constitution, especially if it’s beyond their comprehension.)

Qwertyman: What are the dangers of doing the cha-cha?

ChatGPT: The dangers of doing the cha-cha include: 1. Potential for pulled muscles or sprains due to improper form, which increases the risk of injury. 2. Risk of slipping and falling since the cha-cha can involve quick, sharp movements. 3. Risk of strain on the joints due to the fast, jumping nature of the dance. 4. Risk of overheating due to the amount of movement required for the cha-cha.

(To which we can add: 1. The potential for a further decline in the quality of our leadership, by the extension of political dynasties into future generations of inbred politicians, raising the genetic potential for imbecility. 2. Risk of slipping and falling back into old ways and faces of governance. 3. Risk of strain on the national budget. 4. Risk of overheating the political climate.)

Qwertyman: Is it better to do the cha-cha today or some other time?

ChatGPT: That depends on what you have planned for today. If you have other commitments or would like to save the cha-cha for another time, it is best to choose an alternate date.

(Other commitments? Hmmm, let me think. Defending our patrimony in the West Philippine Sea? Achieving price stability for basic commodities? Fighting corruption? Raising the competencies of our children in STEM? Dispensing justice, especially in long drawn-out cases like the Maguindanao Massacre, the tokhang murders, and Leila de Lima’s incarceration? Providing housing, livelihood, and adequate social security to the poorest Filipinos? Is this list long enough?)

Qwertyman: What are the best alternatives to the cha-cha?

ChatGPT: 1. Bachata 2. Salsa 3. Merengue 4. Cumbia 5. Samba 6. Paso Doble 7. Tango 8. West Coast Swing 9. Bolero 10. Contemporary Latin Dance.

(I have to admit you got me there, ChatGPT. I’ve never heard of the bachata—unless you mean “ban charter talk”?)

(Image from The Adobo Chronicles)

Qwertyman No. 21: AI in the House

Qwertyman for Monday, December 26, 2022

I’D BEEN wanting to write about this for a long time, since last year when my artist-friends first alerted me to the amazing new possibilities being opened by artificial intelligence (AI) in such traditional fields as painting. Before that, like many people, I’d thought of AI in terms of subjects like warfare, medicine, and gaming. It had to be only a matter of time before the technology was ported over to the arts—not just to painting, but to creative writing and music, among other pursuits.

If you don’t know how AI works, just think of it this way (which is the way a lot of people, many of them not even artists, are having fun these days). You download a software program called an “AI generator” (such as starryai for painting, Rytr for creative writing, and AIVA for music), then put it to work by demanding that it produce “a portrait of Jose Rizal in the style of Van Gogh.” Minutes later (or just seconds if you pay), you’ll get what you asked for. What your computer (or in fact, many other computers working together) just did was to run a search for all the images of “Jose Rizal” it could find, then establish what “the style of Van Gogh” means in terms of brush strokes, colors, and so on, and apply one to the other. It’s all about “algorithms” or instruction sets that get sent out and executed until the desired outcome pops up.

That sounds like harmless entertainment, and much of AI is or appears to be, but it isn’t hard to see how even a touch of mischief (not to mention loads of malice) can quickly change the complexion of things. Driven by a fear of computing or what we might call Faustian science, popular culture is replete with examples of AI gone berserk, from HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the master kidnapper Sark in Tron. But positive applications such as those employed in medicine, where AI helps analyze CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays with a sharper eye than a human radiologist sees with, continue to push AI research forward. IBM itself declares that “At this point, there is little doubt that AI will become a core part of the digital health systems that shape and support modern medicine.”

My own first brush with AI happened last week when I stumbled on an article in the New York Times titled “A New Chat Bot Is a ‘Code Red’ for Google’s Search Business.” Intrigued, I read on and found out about ChatGPT, one of many new programs that are threatening to replace Google’s famous search engine. We all know how Google works: you enter a search term, you get a long list of links to possible answers. Chat bots cut through that mess and give you a short, clear, grammatically correct answer (although nobody can guarantee that the answer itself is correct). That’s good if you want a quick reply to a question, but I can just imagine the epidemic of college term papers cutting and pasting unsourced chat-bot answers with gay abandon. 

All this led me to wonder how chat bots would respond to truly important questions, so I decided to download ChatGPT to my iPhone, and to ask it some test questions that would tell me about itself as much as what I was asking about. Below are my questions and the answers that artificial intelligence produced, verbatim (I purposely asked the first question to see if AI was capable of some kind of self-awareness):

1. Q. What are the dangers of artificial intelligence? A. 1. Unintended Consequences – Algorithms designed to reach specific goals could have unintended consequences that produce unforeseen results. 2. Job Loss – AI could displace workers by automating jobs, leading to severe economic disruption in the near future if nobody is trained to take over for the machines. 3. Black Box AI – AI systems are often difficult to understand, making it hard to debug the system when something goes wrong. 4. Over-Reliance on AI – Dependency on AI could lead to cognitive laziness, where humans rely too heavily on algorithms for decision-making and problem-solving. 5. AI Biases – AI systems trained on biased data and algorithms can end up replicating the same flawed assumptions and stereotypes. 6. Security Breaches – Malicious actors could exploit vulnerabilities in AI systems to commit cyber-attacks, data breaches and fraud.

2. Q. What’s wrong with the Philippines? A. The Philippines faces a wide range of problems that must be addressed in order to progress forward. These issues include corruption, overpopulation, environmental destruction, poverty, inequality, and unequal access to education. Additionally, Filipino infrastructure and public services are in dire need of improvement in order to create a more livable and equitable society. Other issues such as illegal drugs, crime, and terrorism also remain major problems facing the Philippines.

3. Q. When should a country have a sovereign wealth fund? A. A country should have a sovereign wealth fund when it has a large amount of assets (such as revenues from oil exports) that can be used for investments and for stabilizing government finances during economic downturns.

4. A. How can we reduce corruption in government? A. The best way to reduce corruption in government is to increase transparency and accountability. This could include strengthening laws and regulations to ensure that government officials are held to high standards, creating independent oversight and auditing systems, and engaging civil society and community members in governance processes. Additionally, investing in training for government officials on ethics, anti-corruption policies and procedures, and proper financial management can help to reduce corruption. Finally, engaging the public to report and discuss any allegations of corruption can help to both curb and address existing instances of corruption.

5. Q. Can volcanoes be punctured? A. No, volcanoes cannot be punctured. Volcanoes are made of molten rock, known as magma, that is too hot and too deep to be pierced with any known tool.

Now, you tell me if those answers sound any worse than the malarkey we’ve been hearing from some of our esteemed senators and congressmen, who cost billions to maintain, feel unbound by the rules of logic and grammar, and can take forever to give you a straight answer. Of course, they can well afford to buy a program like ChatGPT in aid of legislation (it’s free for three days, then P499/mo.). But then, why resort to chat bots when there’s already so much artificial intelligence going around in both august chambers?