Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you’ve read about recently released content-producing artificial intelligence programs that can draft a letter, create a PowerPoint, or write a chat message, or news article, or legal brief in about as long as it takes Google to do a basic search. The technology evidently represents a pretty amazing advance in the ability to rapidly sift through, synthesize, and reassemble reams of existing material to produce “new” content.
The reaction to these AI programs is even more interesting. Setting aside the articles that ring the legal alarm bells–there are issues galore under the copyright and trademark laws arising from where the AI-generated content comes from and whether it represents fair use, for example–the reactions seem to fall into two general camps. One reaction thinks the technology is like a super-cool new toy that can do a credible job of mimicking virtually every form of actual human work product, and goes on about how the new tech can be used to write a speech in 15 seconds that could then be given virtually without editing to an unsuspecting audience. The other camp presents dire forecasts about how the new software will eliminate the jobs of reporters, marketing professionals, and even lawyers, allow tech-savvy students to skirt any remaining vestiges of academic honor codes as they use the AI to write their papers, and cause other calamitous changes to life as we know it.
I think the predictions of calamitous consequences are probably overblown. Much of the clickbait content you see on the internet is so formulaic it has probably been produced by robots for years, and we know that one of the longstanding issues with Twitter has been how many of the tweets on the system are bot-generated. For high school and college students, the internet has already provided them with a handy tool they can use to avoid doing their own thinking and work, if they are so inclined. As for the pieces extolling the uber-coolness of the new AI programs, I suspect that the bloom will wear off, and people will tire of asking for and receiving generic writing.
One question about the new AI that seems to be overlooked in all of the current buzz is why any well-intentioned person would want to use it. If, like me, you enjoy the process and act of writing, you’ll view the new AI programs as anathema. Part of the fun of writing is coming up with your own idea of what to write about, and the rest is trying to do honor to your idea and put something of yourself into the effort –to write a compelling paragraph, to think of just the right word or phrase to best express what you are trying to get across, and to tackle the other challenges involved in creating your own work. AI allows you to come up with the idea (like asking the AI to write a best man’s speech in the style of Winston Churchill) but the second part of the process–the part that stretches your brain and your vocabulary and, perhaps, your perspective on the world as well–is totally missed. Why would anyone want to pass off generic AI-generated content for content’s sake as their own work, and miss the opportunity to truly express their own thoughts in their own words?
I’ll never use these new AI programs because they eliminate the fun of writing. I enjoy facing the empty laptop screen and keyboard first thing in the morning and trying to come up with something to get my brain started for the day. If you read a post on WebnerHouse, you can always count on it–typos, triteness, predictably ill-advised opinions, and all–being the legitimate work product of an actual human being