I perform the same tasks an AI Bot does when answering questions here: I go online and make sure that my answer can be validated online as a self-check. Is there a practical difference between me and a current AI engine with regards to my activity as a Stack Exchange member? How philosophically is there a distinction in those two types of language contributions?
I think that there is no difference. All living beings are made up of inanimate particles (electrons, quarks) and so are the non-living beings. You are asking because the universe has evolved to the state where you are asking. You don't have any free-will. We are sort of "programmed" by the universe. This implies that the AI bot certainly doesn't have free-will (which is programmed by us; we are sort of "programmed" by the universe). In fact, we are just "puppets" controlled by the laws of physics.
I perform the same tasks an AI Bot does when answering questions here: I go online and make sure that my answer can be validated online as a self-check.
Current AI technology may produce language, but it does not do it like the human brain and the very question of 'validation' is what distinguishes people from such technology. AI researchers for decades dreamed of having a system that thinks like people (see GPS), and one such formulation of the problem is the physical symbol system hypothesis and it's closely allied argument of the existence of the LoT or language of thought (SEP). But all attempts to create working software along these lines has led to the framing problem, and the second generation of cognitive scientists has led to counter arguments against the standard cognitive science model such as connectionism and embodied cognition (SEP).
Currently, OpenAI's success with it's current version of ChatGPT LLM (and others like Google's Bard based on LaMDA) has people again wrestling with knowledge about narrow AI and questions about AGI as a hypothesis with persons such as Altman and Goetzel (and other futurists) stoking public hopes and fears that machine systems are about to rise up as sentient beings or that the singularity is about to occur. Happily or sadly, depending on your view, AGI is nowhere near coming to fruition and people still struggle with fundamental critical thinking skills, such as Blake Lamoine, who makes claims that hold no philosophical water.
Is there a practical difference between me and a current AI engine with regards to my activity as a Stack Exchange member.
Yes, there is very much a practical difference. You are a person, not a LLM, and your contributions therefore are not marked by semantic hallucinations. When you contribute your language skills exhibit common sense, where as an LLM's do not. One way to think about this is that you can be distinguished from an LLM with the use of the Turing Test precisely because you are capable of common sense or exhibit other language usage indicative of psychological regularities such as cognitive biases. And a philosopher of mind has an additional tool box that a talented clinical psychologist may not, a vocabulary to describe and understand how minds work metaphysically. While some people are skeptical contemporary philosophy has any value, in fact, contemporary philosophy is more sophisticated than it has ever been as more and more philosophies-of come to maturity.
I put a cryptic crossword clue to ChatGPT. Not only did the gormless bot suggest an incorrect answer, the answer suggested had seven letters instead of the six I had specified in my question, an oversight that ChatGPT was quick to acknowledge when I raised it. Perhaps if I upgrade to the paid version it will be better at figuring out how many letters are contained in a word. In the meantime, I will not be relying upon it for philosophical insights.
So the answer to your question is yes, there is a key difference. ChatGPT immediately recognises its mistakes when they are pointed out to it, whereas humans on stackexchange will stubbornly defend their delusions.