This is how ChatGPT works. You go to your device, you sign up, it prompts you to ask any question in the world, and you do so.
Then you shiver.
Because what spits back, instantly, is the answer to almost anything, in clear, basic language that sounds like someone is talking to you. Which is kind of the idea.
ChatGPT is the latest darling from the world of AI, which, depending on your level of fear, stands for artificial intelligence, allegedly innocent, or alien invasion.
ChatGPT has already caused great alarm for teachers and professors, who have discovered students turning in papers that were written by the program and yet — and here is the saddest part — were better than many done by actual humans.
ChatGPT was even put through exams for medical and law schools, and passed both. You can just hear a proud grandparent cooing, “My computer, the doctor!”
There’s even talk that ChatGPT could soon be used to write articles, books, even novels.
So, as a writer of all three, I decided to test ChatGPT with a few questions on subjects I ought to know something about.
I began by asking about myself.
Tell me about … me?
“Describe the columns by Mitch Albom,” I wrote.
“His columns often focus on personal reflections, human-interest stories, and social commentary,” it answered. “He writes with a unique blend of wit, wisdom, and emotion, and his columns are known for their ability to resonate with readers on a deep and personal level.”
Hmm. I was tempted to conclude this was a brilliant machine and leave it there. But flattery is an old trick. Kind of like those horoscopes that tell you how amazing your future is. So I kept going.
“Write a message to young people in the voice of Mitch Albom,” I asked.
“Dear young people: As you embark on your journey through life, always remember that your future is in your hands. You have the power to shape it, to mold it, to make it into something beautiful and meaningful. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and never give up on your dreams.”
Eh. Less impressive. It’s nice stuff, but I could have said it. Barack Obama could have said it. Kid Rock could have said it.
I got more specific.
“Send a message from Mitch Albom to young people about the importance of writing,” I asked.
“Dear young writers,
“Writing is a powerful tool, it allows you to express yourself and share your thoughts, ideas, and emotions with the world. It is a craft that takes practice and dedication to perfect, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
“As you begin your journey as a writer, remember to always write from the heart. Write about what you know and what you care about, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable …
“Remember that writing is a journey, not a destination. It is something that you will continue to grow and improve at throughout your life. Don’t be discouraged by rejection or setbacks, they are a part of the process. Keep writing and keep learning, and you will find your voice.”
Not bad, I thought.
But not complete.
Some things are irreplaceable
So I asked it why a student should NOT use ChatGPT to write papers.
It answered with four major points. One, “plagiarism is a serious academic offense.” Two, writing your own paper allows you to develop “critical thinking and writing skills.” And three, writing your own paper demonstrates your “understanding of the material.”
What it left out was this. Joy. There is a joy in taking the language you have learned and reassembling it to create your thoughts. Spark. There’s a spark of imagination that comes when you string ideas together. Satisfaction. There is satisfaction when you read over something you have created from scratch, something that only exists because you made it exist, something that took the impulse in your brain’s gray matter and sent it through your fingers and onto the page, where your eyes can read it and your heart can appreciate it.
And magic. The magic of creativity.
Those are your real reasons, young folks, for exiting this program and doing your own work.
I ended my session with ChatGPT with this question: “What would the writer Mitch Albom think about a computer-generated story?’
It answered, in part, “as a professional author and storyteller, he may feel that the use of computer-generated stories undermines the value of human creativity, imagination and the emotional connection that a human author can create with the readers. Additionally, he may also feel that the computer-generated stories lack the unique voice, perspective and the emotional depth that a human author can bring to a story.”
Bingo. As Marvin and Tammi once sang, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing.”
By the way, when I asked ChatGPT “Who were Marvin and Tammi?” it blinked its cursor for 10 seconds, then said: “I’m sorry, I don’t have enough context to understand.”