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ChatGPT doesn’t know where the world’s copper comes from, AI images show mining stuck in the Great Depression

Image: Midjourney

There’s no shortage of breathless reports about the latest advances in artificial intelligence ushering in the 4th industrial revolution (whatever that is) and changing the world of work forever. 

Even the most skilled workers are supposed to fear for their jobs as chatbots like ChatGPT answer questions and solve problems that would take humans hours or days, instantly. Likewise, image generators like Midjourney can interpret our world and provide cutting edge visuals on any topic or peer into the future.   

Time to meet your new robot overlords.

A simple prompt to OpenAIs ChatGPT suggests machine learning needs a bit more study time. The same question was asked multiple times and weeks apart in case the millions of conversations since the natural language bot was opened to the public may have taught it something. 

It still got the simplest of questions on mining’s most important metal wrong. 

A quick crosscheck with the USGS bible finds not only the country level production volumes to be wrong (China has never produced more than 2 million tonnes in a year, the Chile figure is off by a half a million tonnes) but there is also a glaring omission. 

Where is the Congo? If the fact the USGS uses “Congo (Kinshasa)” to name the country threw it off, it’s a rudimentary mistake. The DRC produced 1.6m tonnes in 2020 – that’s a lot of metal to go missing. 

Source: OpenAI ChatGPT

The confidence with which it relays the mistake and the certainty with which it sources the wrong answer from a trustworthy source is, to put it mildly, disconcerting. 

Let’s hope no-one in Washington is using ChatGPT to craft critical minerals strategies or global trade policy. (They most certainly are – ed.)

At the moment, image generators like Stable Diffusion, Dall-E and Midjourney are probably just a threat to the jobs of graphic artists and game designers, but the visuals created shows up AI’s distorted view of the mining industry and mineworkers.

The prompt to Stable Diffusion of “A group of miners get ready for the morning shift at a copper mine in the USA” produced the horrors below and changing it to “modern copper mine” altered little other than to add colour and update the hard hats.

Even if you ignore the warped faces, the general demeanour and ragged clothing the images still evokes dirt poor and exploited labourers similar to the many news photos from the Great Depression. 

Source: Stable Diffusion

Using the same prompt, Midjourney also thinks mining is the most depressing job in the world, performed by despairing old men assembling in gloomy bunkers ahead of a punishing day on the job.

Several iterations paint the exact same picture, all with the same New York mining disaster 1941 vibe.  

If nothing else, these images show the mining industry has a massive public perception problem and enticing young people to join the industry is, well, not a job that can be left to artificial intelligence.

Source: Midjourney

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