In a previous life, I spent two decades immersed in the high-tech world of the Silicon Valley, so these days I rarely pay much attention to the cutting-edge happenings of modern technology. Which is why the buzz about OpenAI’s ChatGPT caught me completely off guard. It wasn’t until I read the article of my friend and fellow writer Donny Kimball’s excellent article about Solo Travel in Japan that I understood what was happening in the world of artificial intelligence.
If you’ve been hiding under a luddite rock like I have been, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot that you can converse with like a real person, and it provides surprisingly well-thought-out responses to your questions and opinions. In the case of Donny Kimball, he asked it to write an article about Solo Travel in Japan, and it responded with a generic yet absurdly well-written response, taking mere seconds to write what it takes some writers hours to produce.
As an Editor-in-Chief of Voyapon, a major Japan travel and culture website, the alarm in my head was suddenly blaring. If AI could already produce an article of this quality about a popular travel topic, how long would it be before competitors producing hundreds of these types of articles began stealing our share of the Japan travel global audience? Sure, Voyapon has built a reputation on high-quality articles written with depth and personal perspective that cannot be easily replicated by AI. But many people are searching for information, not entertainment, and an AI-generated article can certainly provide what they need in that respect.
When it comes to the idea of technology crossing the blurred line into creative fields like writing or photography (and recently, the production of “artwork” in general), I am a pragmatist. It would be hypocritical to deny that editing tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop have enabled me to produce photographic images I may not have been able to produce otherwise or that countless hours of my private life have not been saved by the work of the little elves behind Grammarly. ChatGPT may be straying farther into my lane than I feel comfortable with, but it is still ultimately technology, and one that is controlled by a person, in this case, the one who writes the query. The quality of ChatGPT’s output will rely heavily on the ability of the person making the inquiry.
And even if the query is perfect, the output will still need a human editor, as if it were written by any other writer. Although there may be no grammatical or spelling errors, the AI can only use the information it finds on the Internet, a source which is notoriously full of “alternative facts.” People have already found ways to make it spit out biased, even offensive responses to their queries. It would be irresponsible for a website to simply copy and paste a response from ChatGPT as an article without a thorough check, although I suspect this will happen frequently as employing a real human being as an editor costs real money.
So this is where the alarm in my Editor-in-Chief brain dies down a little, at least for the near future. AI as a content creator is still like a toddler running around with a tiki torch. Leave it unsupervised, and it will burn your house down. But learn how to train it to produce good results and make sure those results are factual and relevant, and now you have a powerful tool that can not only save you valuable time but could also improve the quality of your personal content.
AI as a content creator is like a toddler running around with a tiki torch. Leave it unsupervised, and it will burn your house down.
My professional writer brain, however, has slept through the whole fire drill. Because honestly, AI is nowhere near the point where it can truly be creative. It has no life experience to draw from; how can it have creativity? When I write about travel in Japan, I write from my experience, an experience AI can never honestly say it has. It can only write from the experiences of others which is closer to plagiarism than it is to creativity. And people do care about experience, which is why we are still fascinated by reading Kerouac’s “On the Road” and spend inordinate amounts of time as social media voyeurs, savoring the crumbs under the tables of celebrities and influencers.
If anything, the revelation of ChatGPT fired me up, to focus more on producing more content that AI cannot create. The truth is that in our business, we are often required to write bland articles, heavy on facts and light on perspective. These are exactly the types of articles that AI writers will be soon tasked with, so if your job depends on that type of article, you’d better start looking for a new gig in 2023, or at least figure out how to be the one directing AI to write an article. But for writers who are writing for their legacy, who want to make their readers savor the experience of visiting Japan, you have little to fear from the AI Reaper. At least in this iteration.