ugh, AI

I’ve mostly ignored the news about AI, even though I shouldn’t, but I just wanted to continue living in my little world of thinking that writing is produced by actual humans who experience something, or research something, or read other writers and then formulate thoughts and ideas and put those thoughts and ideas to paper or their tech of choice for someone else to read and have their own thoughts and ideas on.

I know it’s silly. There have been ways to get writing done without actually doing the writing well before AI came about.

But I make a living with words. My livelihood depends on brilliant but imperfect (human) writers, because everybody needs an editor, no matter how brilliant a writer they are. Even brilliant writers make mistakes, which editors are in the business of catching before a reader is any the wiser. (I’ve already written, rewritten, and edited this post multiple times, and I bet it’ll still end up with a typo or a word missing somewhere—there’s another truth about editing: it’s hard to edit your own writing.)

We are talking about AI at work. Writing things for our clients about AI and use of it in the workplace. I finally pushed past my (annoyance? disdain? unease?) about AI and got curious enough to create a ChatGPT account yesterday. Nervously, I typed in a prompt for a class assignment—one I’d already submitted, written with my own words and ideas—and watched as a short essay with five bullet points and an opening and closing paragraph appeared in less than 15 seconds. There were no typos or nonsensical text. It wasn’t horrible. The ideas and writing flowed okay. But it was dry, boring, and didn’t sound a bit like me.

I went about my work day and bugged a coworker, a writer who is more open to AI than me has already delved into it, to complain about my findings. I texted a friend and we wondered how teachers would have the bandwidth to weed out the AI from original work. I envisioned professors and teachers everywhere shaking fists skyward while reading boring AI-produced student submissions.

After work, I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about middle aged women and feeling invisible. It gave me some decent points, something I might use as a start for an article about, you know, the reality of being a middle aged woman in America. But again, a regular snooze fest, dull and dry, formulaic, not blog-like at all. (Still no typos, much to my chagrin.)

fog on Lake Michigan (my photo, not AI-generated)

And then I asked for a poem about Lake Michigan. I’m pretty sure no poets are going out of work due to stanzas like this:

The beauty of your shoreline,
Is like a work of art,
A canvas painted by nature,
That touches every heart.

(AI-generated stanza of a poem about Lake Michigan)

Boring essays, blog posts, and poems aside, what are the ramifications here? Not everyone is a writer, and an AI generated response to a prompt might help someone with ideas or flow for their own work or assignment. In that respect, it’s just another tool in a writer’s toolbox, right? Conversely, if a writer doesn’t add something to their AI-generated work and passes it off as their own, what then? Potential for plagiarism? Dishonesty, at the very least.

There’s already a surfeit (oh I love that word) of content on the internet. Are we going to drown in even more of it, but with less soul and feeling and earnestness? Are we going to stop learning how to write essays, or poems, or articles, or verse, or plays, because all we have to do is type a prompt like “write a one-act play about menopause” and boom, we have a one-act play called “Hot Flashes and Cold Comfort” featuring Linda, a middle-aged woman going through menopause, and Dave, her husband, where one of Dave’s lines is “I know it’s tough, but you’re not alone. Lots of women go through menopause.” Dave, you asshole.

Like I said, I have somewhat buried my head in the sand about this issue, because my hope is that everyone enjoys writing the way I do. I’m certain I’ll only use AI for my own amusement, if I even use it at all. I don’t think AI will be replacing any of the writers I work with, either. And if I ever do end up editing AI-generated copy, I imagine my editing work will shift to adding life and feeling, a human and perhaps flawed tone. I’ll sure miss the typos, though.

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