I was a Computer Operator back in 1982 when the Vancouver Public Library decided to automate their entire library system. Some library patrons were quite worried at the time about having their personal information stored somewhere where anybody could see it.
What a difference a few decades makes. Today, just having a Google account means you can literally be followed, and advertised to with “relevant” ads. And who-knows-who can get access to all kinds of information about you.
I don’t have anything against technology, obviously, having been witness to “Gutenberg Two”. That was what the computer was characterized as back then, in the book by David Godfrey. Gutenberg One was the printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg.
The printing press was a revolution in terms of information and the ability to access and spread it to whoever could read. The computer was another evolution in that sequence.
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, appears to be a revolution of another kind. And now it’s getting weird.
One of the latest apps, ChatGPT, is a chatbot that can “converse, create readable text on demand and create novel images and video”. It’s also stirring up trouble.
The creators of ChatGPT basically used material that was already out there to teach the bot how to create its own content.
Kids are have started using it to “write” essays in school. A new level of cheating. Those darn kids.
There’s a children’s book being marketed on Amazon that was created using ChatGPT. Even the illustrations are created by a text-to-image AI tool. It took the “creator” a weekend to put it together and start selling it.
Now my mind is racing. Maybe I won’t have to spend hours and hours on my writing ever again because ChatGPT can do it for me!
But what’s the point? When it comes to art, a text-to-image AI tool could never be a modern day Da Vinci. Or could it? And even worse, what if nobody cares?
Well, artists do.
In fact, there are two lawsuits against an AI company happening right now in the U.K. and in the U.S. Part of the argument in the U.K. suit initiated by Getty Images is that this AI company “illegally scraped” content from their website in order to train the tools to create images.
Lawyers for the artists in the suit say that this is breaking copyright and other laws, and they are suing for billions. They argue that “because the AI system only ingests images from others, nothing it creates can be original.”
Copying the great artists has been going on for centuries, but this takes it to a whole new level.
So, should writers be worried about chatbots?
Some writers may be concerned about the potential for chatbots to replace human writers in certain roles, such as news or content generation. However, it is also possible that chatbots could be used to enhance the work of human writers, by providing assistance with research, editing, or other tasks.
Well, that’s what ChatGPT told me anyway. Yes, that last paragraph was bot-generated after I posed the question on the ChatGPT website.
So I decided to ask the bot the age old question.
Was it “what is the meaning of life?” No.
Instead I asked “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
There was a long pause. Did ChatGPT recognize a tongue-twister?
Then came the answer: “According to a study by wildlife biologist Richard Thomas, a woodchuck, also known as a groundhog, would chuck approximately 700 pounds of wood if a woodchuck could chuck wood. However, in reality, woodchucks do not chuck wood as they primarily burrow in soil and do not have the physical ability to chuck wood.”