ChatGPT: AI is now a decent writer. So you need to be better.

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I’ve been playing around with ChatGPT, an AI writing tool from Open AI. It is amazing. In contrast to previous AI writing tools, which were transparently awful, this one is quite good.

I am not an AI expert, so don’t ask me how it works. I am a writing expert, so my question is this: could a tool like this write convincing prose in various formats like blog posts, press releases, or other contexts? Could it do as good a job as a typical copywriter?

My answer: ChatGPT is as good in certain contexts as a poor to average writer. That’s going to be a problem for any poor to average writer working today. And it’s getting better.

You be the judge

I tried to give ChatGPT some typical tasks. Here’s one: write a blog post about the role of flow in writing. My prompt specified a blog post of 500 words about flow.

As writers, we often strive to enter a state of flow while we are working. This is the state of intense concentration and complete immersion in the task at hand, where time seems to disappear and our creativity flows freely.

But what exactly is flow and how does it benefit our writing?

Flow is a psychological concept first introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” It is a state of heightened focus and enjoyment, where our attention is fully engaged in the task at hand. When we are in a state of flow, we are completely absorbed in our writing, without any distractions or interruptions.

One of the key benefits of flow is that it allows us to be more productive and efficient. When we are in a state of flow, we are able to focus on our writing without any distractions, allowing us to produce more and better work in less time. This can help us meet deadlines, finish projects, and achieve our goals more quickly.

Additionally, flow can also improve the quality of our writing. When we are in a state of flow, we are able to access our creative abilities more easily and produce more original and interesting ideas. This can help us create more engaging and compelling stories, articles, and other written works.

But how do we achieve a state of flow while writing? Here are a few tips:

  • Create a conducive environment: Make sure your writing space is comfortable, well-lit, and free from distractions.
  • Set clear goals: Before you start writing, determine what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it.
  • Eliminate distractions: Turn off your phone, log out of social media, and remove any other potential distractions from your writing space.
  • Get into a routine: Establish a regular writing schedule and stick to it as much as possible. This will help you get into the habit of writing and make it easier to enter a state of flow.
  • Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings while you are writing and try to stay focused on the task at hand.

Flow is an important concept for writers, as it can help us produce better and more efficient work. By creating the right conditions and practicing mindfulness, we can tap into our creative potential and enter a state of flow while writing. This can help us produce more engaging and compelling written works and achieve our goals more quickly.

If you read this on my blog, what would you think? It may not strike you as the most brilliant thing you ever read, but it’s not bad. It’s not terribly original, but based on a quick check, it manages to evade outright plagiarism.

One experiment that convinced me of the promise of this technology came from my friend Steve Garfield, who recently published this press release on his Facebook feed:

Decorative statues depicting dragons throughout BOSTON, MA

BOSTON, MA – The City of Boston is pleased to announce the installation of a series of decorative statues depicting dragons throughout the city. These beautifully crafted statues are sure to be a hit with residents and visitors alike, adding a touch of whimsy and magic to the streets of Boston.

The statues were created by local artist Jessica Smith, who was inspired by the city’s rich history and culture. “Boston is such a vibrant and diverse city, and I wanted to create something that would reflect that,” said Smith. “The dragons are a symbol of strength and beauty, and I think they will be a wonderful addition to the city.”

The statues, which range in height from 10 to 15 feet, will be located in popular areas throughout the city, including Faneuil Hall, the Boston Common, and the Public Garden. They will be on display from December 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023.

The city of Boston invites residents and visitors to come and see these magnificent statues for themselves. “We are thrilled to be able to bring these beautiful pieces of art to the city,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We hope that they will bring joy and inspiration to all who see them.”

For more information, please contact the Boston Public Arts Commission at 617-555-0100.

I was ready to get all excited until I read the end of Steve’s post: “This is not real, but it should be. Art by Midjourney. Press Release by chat.openai.com” So AI created both the artwork and the press release.

For a final test, I told ChatGPT to write a story about one man’s illicit love affair with a bottle opener. Here’s the result:

One man’s love for a bottle opener was something that he had always kept hidden, deep inside. It was an illicit passion, one that he was ashamed of and didn’t want anyone to know about.

He had always been a rational, logical person, but when it came to this bottle opener, he couldn’t help but feel a strange and inexplicable attraction.

It was a simple bottle opener, nothing fancy or special. It was made of metal, with a smooth, curved handle and a small, sharp blade that fit perfectly into the groove of a bottle cap. But to this man, it was the most beautiful and intoxicating object he had ever seen. Every day, he would sneak glances at the bottle opener, hidden away in a drawer in his kitchen. He would admire its sleek, shiny surface and imagine the way it would feel in his hand, the way it would easily and effortlessly open a bottle with a satisfying pop.

But he knew that he could never act on his feelings. He was afraid of what people would think, of how they would judge him for his strange and unnatural attraction to a simple kitchen gadget. So he kept his love for the bottle opener a secret, never daring to touch it or even speak of it to anyone.

But one day, something changed. He had been out with friends, enjoying a few drinks and having a good time. When it was time to open a bottle, someone handed him the bottle opener, and he felt a surge of excitement and fear. He hesitated for a moment, then took the opener in his hand and felt a rush of pleasure as he opened the bottle with ease.

From that moment on, he could no longer deny his love for the bottle opener. He began to openly admire it and show it off to his friends, even buying new and exotic bottle openers to add to his collection. And though some people thought it was strange, he didn’t care. He had finally embraced his love for the bottle opener, and he was happy.

Amusing. Creative, perhaps. It certainly doesn’t sound like a machine.

What does this mean?

I think from this point forward, you cannot be certain whether what you read was created by a machine or a human. Sure, there will be clues, but as time goes on and AI gets better, those clues will be harder and harder to spot.

This is going to be a real problem for writing teachers. When I told ChatGPT to write a five-paragraph theme on arguments to abolish the Electoral College, the result sounded exactly like what a high-school sophomore might write.

I don’t think ChatGPT can write longer pieces like research reports or analyses. But the technology behind it is available now from OpenAI, so it won’t be long until we can read such things.

What this means is that ordinary, workaday writing is no longer a writer’s work.

What makes writing worth doing?

Original insights. AI doesn’t have those.

Engaging prose. AI is weak on that.

Wit. AI still lacks that.

For writers, the job is now to do a better job than a machine. You can also succeed by using the machine to generate prose and improving it. But you can’t just write ordinary text anymore.

Machines now play chess, diagnose disease, and assemble cars. If a machine is better than a person at these things, why should the person do them?

But combining the efficiency of an artificial intelligence with the cleverness of a human intelligence is now what matters.

Stop writing boring prose. Because if you do, you’re going to be replaced.

The next big question

Tools like Grammarly are already good at many copy editing tasks.

How long will it be until AI can do developmental editing as well as most editors?

I’ll keep editing until I’m replaced. I wonder how long that will take?

5 responses to “ChatGPT: AI is now a decent writer. So you need to be better.

  1. You’re absolutely right about what AI can do, can’t do, and one day might do.
    When I read, “My prompt specified a blog post of 500 words about flow,” I thought you meant the the flow of thought across written sentences and paragraphs. I wonder whether the algorithm considered that possibility.

  2. There are several reasons why a writer might be afraid of chatgpt:

    Lack of control: Chatgpt is an AI tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to generate text based on input provided by the user. This means that the writer has little control over the content generated by chatgpt and may be afraid of losing control over their writing process.

    Risk of plagiarism: Chatgpt has the ability to generate text that is similar to existing content on the internet. This means that there is a risk of the writer inadvertently using plagiarized content in their writing, which can be damaging to their reputation and credibility.

    Quality of output: The quality of the text generated by chatgpt may not be up to the standards of the writer, leading to concerns about the overall quality of their writing.

    Fear of obsolescence: Chatgpt and other AI tools have the potential to automate certain writing tasks, leading to concerns that writers may become obsolete as a result. This fear may lead to anxiety and uncertainty among writers.

    Ethical considerations: The use of chatgpt raises ethical concerns about the potential for AI to manipulate or deceive readers by generating fake or misleading content. This may cause writers to hesitate to use chatgpt in their writing.

    —————————–

    If you guessed “my” reply was generated by Chatgpt, you’re right.

    Interesting, intriguing and sorta creepy all at the same time. I’m glad I’m retired and hoping that no AI-based retirement tools emerge to take away that job.

    Tom

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