If you’ve been listening to the news, you’ve probably heard of ChatGPT, the new AI website that generates prose answers to the type of questions previously addressed by Google and other search engines. In fact, its heart seems to be a search engine, with a more interactive, chat-like interface than prior search engines. It’s kind of fun to play with, but also concerning, because it’s about to revolutionize a big part of our world in ways we may not really want.
So far, I’ve heard two groups raising the alarm: English teachers, and science fiction magazines.
Teachers first. The problem is that in addition to searching for information, you can ask ChatGPT to write what amount to term papers. If requested, it will even provide footnotes. I tried that by asking it to write me a 1,000-word summary of the Perseverance Mars Rover and Mars Sample Return mission. What I got would have passed muster as a high school essay when I was in school. This is definitely going to be a challenge for teachers.
Perseverance was an easy assignment for it, of course, because there’s a lot out there about it, well organized on multiple websites. For a slightly tougher challenge, I asked it to write a 150-word bio of me (describing myself as “Richard A. Lovett of Portland, Oregon). The result was…intriguing:
Richard A. Lovett is a prolific science fiction author, science journalist, and literary agent based in Portland, Oregon. He received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.
Lovett’s passion for science and storytelling has led him to write over 40 science fiction stories and articles for various publications, including Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In addition to his writing, Lovett is also a respected literary agent, representing top science fiction and fantasy authors.
Outside of his professional work, Lovett is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and has served on the Board of Directors of Willamette Writers, a non-profit organization supporting writers in Oregon. He is also an avid runner and participates in marathons and ultramarathons.
There is not a single sentence of that which is fully accurate. At the same time there is only one sentence—the one about being a literary agent—that is completely wrong. It’s a weird mix.
Now for science fiction. Here, the problem is that they are suddenly being flooded with ChatGPT-generated short stories: so many (and increasing so rapidly) so that one major publication has closed itself to submissions and others may have to follow suit.
To test its ability to write a story, I asked for up to 300 words about an invasion by an alien species that looks like puppies. Here’s the result:
The invasion began with a cute little puppy.
As the extraterrestrial forces arrived on Earth, they disguised themselves as adorable puppies and began to infiltrate human society. At first, everyone was smitten with the adorable little creatures. They were so cuddly and sweet that no one suspected a thing. People took them into their homes and showered them with love and attention.
But as the weeks went by, strange things started to happen. The puppies began to grow at an alarming rate, and their behavior became increasingly odd. They would bark at nothing, and their eyes glowed with an eerie green light. It wasn’t long before people started to realize that something was wrong. The puppies were no longer just cute pets; they were alien invaders, using their cuteness to infiltrate human society and prepare the way for the invasion.
The people of Earth banded together to fight the alien puppy invaders. But it was hard to fight against creatures that were so adorable. Many people found themselves torn between their love for the puppies and their duty to protect humanity.
In the end, humanity emerged victorious. They were able to drive out the alien invaders and send them back to their home planet. But the memory of those adorable little puppies lingered, and many people couldn’t help but wonder if they would ever be able to trust a cute little pet again.
It is, of course, a cliché, but I asked for a cliché, so that’s on me. And one could argue about whether a creature whose eyes glowed with an eerie green light is adorable, but setting that aside, it’s actually fairly decent for the high school level. The ending in particular caught my attention, because it really tried to put a twist on it, and what it came up with wasn’t bad, given the constraints I’d set.
Bottom line: this really is going to revolutionize society. I suspect that within two to three years, human writers will no longer be needed for a wide array of purposes, possibly including blog posts like this. But who knows; maybe there will be a way to make this into a productivity enhancing tool, in much the way that spell check programs have helped us spot typos. Time will tell, but this looks it might eventually make conventional English composition classes obsolete. And maybe science fiction writers, as well, except for a select few. That will be really hard on people wanting to do it for real, as opposed to telling a computer to write it for them.