Tuesday, January 24, 2023

ChatGPT did not write this blog

 There are a lot of folks thinking about the implications of ChatGPT, the new AI that has many writers worried about losing their jobs.  I've seen posts online where people provided prompts to ChatGPT and found the resulting document to be comparable to a well-written, college level paper.  Which has led, inevitably, to the claim that AI will replace humans and take their jobs.  All that is left now is for the Luddites to grab their spanners and wreak havoc on the knitting machines.  

As someone who writes a lot, I am concerned about any AI with the ability to write or argue points in the same manner, voice and frequency that I do.  In fact, it might be interesting to load all 1200+ posts I have written and train an AI to simply continue to write posts for me, while I while away the afternoons sipping pina coladas.  Don't judge me - I like coconut.  And, yes, some jobs are likely to be replaced, but in case no one has noticed, AI has been writing short new snippets and even full-page web articles for several years.  Daniel Pink wrote years ago that anything that could be broken down into a defined process would be first outsourced and then automated.  Years later, what we are discovering is that anything with patterns and some descriptive underlying logic, like a language, can be automated.  This does not mean the end of humans, or even copywriters, because the AI still requires interesting prompts.  In other words, it knows HOW to write, perhaps even more effectively and fluently than we do, but it does not know WHAT to write, and in many instances, it may miss the point about WHY to write at all.

Having a specific point of view is vital.  After all, would you rather read a piece about the English language and its uses from Orwell or Churchill, or Mick Jagger?  Orwell and Churchill understood the use of language, first to shape how people think (Orwell) or to move and motivate people (Churchill).  Jagger uses language as a way to evoke thoughts or emotions and to entertain people.  And, yes, you could create an AI that became expert at mimicking Orwell - what would he have thought of that?  A whole book could be written just about the speculation about how Orwell would have reacted to ChatGPT and its potential use or disuse.  But AI cannot replace Orwell, because Orwell had several characteristics that the AI will never have - lived experience, a point of view, ideas about the current state and visions about the future.

A single AI won't have all of these facets - at least not yet.  It would take several AIs working in tandem, all trained to Orwell's writing style, perspective, politics, life experienes and more, to adequately reflect how Orwell wrote, and to begin to try to fully replace Orwell.  Not saying it isn't possible, just very difficult right now, when AI could be put to better use.

Where is the creative spark?

A good friend of mine likes to say that all programming code is a derivative of the original line of code ever written.  Likewise, most music is derivative of original notes and beats that humans created thousands of years ago.  The beats per minute may change, the instruments may change, the different chords and keys may change, but eventually all music is derived from an original source.

So it is with most things.  I like Hemingway's books and find his style and usage and word choice interesting.  It is the combination of his choice of words, his characters and his settings, as well as his point of view that make his work interesting.  So, is the creative act the process of putting words on a page, words that have been used again and again for centuries?  Or is the creative act in the selection and choice of words, the short sentences and the long, run-ons?  Where does the actual creative spark lie, and what creates or generates that spark?  Because ultimate that's what will differentiate humans from our AI partners. Note that I say partners, not overlords, as some will suggest.  If and when multiple AIs are joined together, all of which can do very different things, and all the AIs band together to work against us, we may be in trouble, but fortunately that's a problem for my kids' generation to solve.

Weavers, whip makers and copy writers

So, yes, some jobs and roles will be threatened by the onset of AI in language processing.  Just as manual weavers gave way to automated looms and whip makers were out of business when the automobile became popular, creative destruction as envisioned by Schumpeter will continue.  Innovation and technology will create new capabilities that replace or in some instances destroy jobs and even industries.  We can stand athwart history, fighting the emergence of new technologies, or we can adjust and reframe capabilities to take advantage of new opportunities.  The Luddities tried to destroy the weaving machines.  Less is recorded about the demise of whip makers, although I am sure they did not go silently into that good night.  What will those of us whose occupations and incomes depend on developing great copy do?  Perhaps we'll learn to train machines and AI to do the bulk of the work for us and put the final touches on ourselves.  Is what AI is doing really so different from what James Patterson is doing - writing story outlines and having other authors flesh out the story?

One day, an AI may write this blog, but if it does, I'll provide the context and the prompts and the ideas and will probably rework the draft.  You'll be able to tell it's my own work when there are run-on sentences, misplaced metaphors and poor subject/verb agreement.  But hopefully the good ideas will shine through.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:19 PM


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