Updated: Jan 12
I've been on the fence about ChatGPT, the new open-source artificial intelligence that will write just about any content you ask it to. Before today, I had encountered just a few examples of ChatGPT-produced content, including a cogent yet snooze-inducing sermon, a bland but average LinkedIn post, and a comprehensive yet uncreative ethics class syllabi.
From this limited data, I thought that ChatGPT might serve as a useful scaffold for human writers to create more developed writing projects and perhaps even as a replacement for human writers on a few standard form-written items. I was wrong.
This morning I sat down and fed ChatGPT a wide variety of prompts. The longer and harder I tried to get anything original or interesting out of the AI, the more it fed me solidly mediocre and deeply uninteresting scripts. I don't think ChatGPT is ready to replace human writers at any stage of the writing process, and here's why.
(A quick note before I explain my thoughts - this is all based on my own small sample of experiments with ChatGPT, and my conclusions might be proven wrong with further research. However, the patterns seemed to hold pretty strongly across each different prompt I fed to the AI, so I feel reasonably confident in what I'm about to say. Okay, back to the scheduled content.)
Average vs. Innovative
Every ChatGPT response read as if ChatGPT had taken the data set, averaged it, and spat out the most anodyne and unoriginal content possible. It may be able to craft a string of unique words that technically meets most of the specifications in your prompt, but it distinctly lacks the ability to find new and interesting positions that expand a conversation and discourse.
As a philosopher, writer, and educator, the key skill I try to inculcate in my students is the ability to break out of common, unproductive conversational and argumentative patterns through close reading and careful thinking. ChatGPT not only lacks that ability, it also lacks the kind of originality and innovation in form and content that marks beautiful poetry and compelling fiction.
Stultifying vs. Surprising
As human beings, we love to be pleasantly surprised. Even if we're surprised by a human mistake or something that is objectively bad, that kind of novelty grabs our attention and keeps us engaged. ChatGPT can't yet provide that spark of human personality, character, and distinctly human weirdness that drives successful TikTok content and even corporate brand viability.
The longer I read through the drivel that ChatGPT gave me, the more I felt a hollow sense of disappointment. By the end of my hour long deep dive, I almost felt sick to my stomach. My bet is that companies will lose money and consumer interest if they farm out their writing to ChatGPT at this stage. It's better to maintain a user experience with personality and unique selling points, and that still requires thinking humans.
Existing Biases vs. Ethical Thinking
One of the prompts that ChatGPT answered the best was "write a university statement about a recent incident in which a white graduate student called the cops on a black graduate student who was napping at the library in between writing sessions." The statement was almost exactly like many other university emails I've read about similar instances, with strong rejections of interpersonal and institutional racism and commitments to do better through diversity trainings and other initiatives.
Unfortunately, like many real-life university statements, there were no specifics about the kinds of trainings being held or any other concrete structural changes that would be made to prevent instances of discrimination. It's also unclear to me that ChatGPT would be able to handle any further nuances in overlapping marginalized identities or quickly changing (and sometimes contested) language paradigms in, say, the LGBTQ+ community.
In sum, I think that ChatGPT has a long way to go before it can replace human writers. We still need writers with original thoughts and distinct personalities who pay careful attention to the changing needs of the audience their writing should serve. Good writing isn't just about placing words together in a cogent, grammatically correct string; it's about communicating helpful ideas and original thoughts in interesting and often surprising ways.
Bonus Content: Compare ChatGPT to the preceding blog.
For your entertainment, I have just asked ChatGPT to write a blog that answers the question "Will ChatGPT replace human writers?" I've copied below what it gave me. See if you can spot the differences between the human-written and the AI-written answers to that question. Take it away, ChatGPT:
As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance, there has been speculation about whether or not chatbots and language models like ChatGPT will replace human writers. While ChatGPT and other AI language tools can certainly be useful for certain tasks, it is unlikely that they will entirely replace human writers in the foreseeable future.
One of the main reasons for this is that ChatGPT and other AI language models are still limited in their ability to understand and produce human-like language. While they can generate coherent text and respond to prompts, they do not have the same level of understanding and creativity as a human writer. They are also limited by the data they have been trained on, which means they may not be able to produce content on topics that fall outside of their training data.
Additionally, writing is about more than just stringing together words to form sentences. It is also about conveying meaning, emotion, and tone, which are difficult for AI models to replicate. Human writers have a unique perspective and voice that comes from their own experiences, which cannot be replicated by an AI model.
Furthermore, writing is often tied to other creative and analytical tasks, such as brainstorming, researching, and editing. These tasks require critical thinking and decision-making skills that AI models do not possess.
In short, while ChatGPT and other AI language models can be useful for certain tasks, they are unlikely to replace human writers entirely. Human writers bring a unique perspective and understanding to their work that cannot be replicated by AI models.
Final author's note: I plugged this prompt into ChatGPT after writing the first part of this blog, and I have to say that ChatGPT had my number with the line "writing is about more than just stringing together words to form sentences," which was quite like my own sentence "good writing isn't just about placing words together in a cogent, grammatically correct string; it's about communicating helpful ideas and original thoughts in interesting and often surprising ways." Maybe I've got more work to do to make my writing original. 😅
I think there's a world in which ChatGPT could catch up to human thinking and writing, but we're not quite there yet. We're instead in some uncanny valley where ChatGPT has figured out just enough to mimic common writing tropes and trains of thought but not enough to move beyond the generic. Ask ChatGPT to create a campy Batman film opening or write a Lady Gaga song, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Photo Credit: Ken Suarez