The title of this essay inverts the title of a book about economics by Donald Mackenzie, An Engine Not a Camera. The premise of that book is that economics theories are engines that produce (via policies and institutions) economic behaviors, but trick us into thinking they merely describe them. Modern AI has the reverse problem. It’s a camera that tricks us into thinking it’s an engine that “generates” rather than “sees” things. As an aside, this weird symmetry makes me suspect that economics and modern AI are true duals of some sort — maybe the way to get to AI with agency is to bolt on an economics theory.
This is what the stochastic-parrot takes (and the older monkeys-at-typewriters take) entirely miss. We’re all stochastic parrots attached to monkeys on typewriters all the way down. That’s only insulting if you don’t like parrots and monkeys and imagine you possess some ineffably higher-order consciousness their kinds of minds cannot embody.
The fascinating thing is, parrots and monkeys are all you need. That’s all it seems to take to produce anything we consider intelligent behavior, and we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of that behavior space, which is far vaster than we imagined.