ChatGPT has prompted a new vigour in self-examination among writers, including my colleague Cian Jones who wrote last week’s blog on the part AI could play in PR. The new AI model has been designed so it “interacts in a conversational way”, carefully not promising conversation itself, but something close enough.
What is close enough? Who better to ask about words than the venerated writers who came before us.
“Words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind” argues Virginia Woolf, railing against a hypothesis that requires no human input. “Consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.”
Compelling, but ChatGPT is not a dictionary, it has evolved. It “interacts in a conversational way”.
I still find it unsettling, it doesn’t feel quite like “real writing”. Perhaps because we are one step closer to eroding the power of words held in persuasion, truth, and emotion.
As Blayne Haggart argues, you can’t factcheck ChatGPT because “the source is the statistical fact that most of the time, a set of words tend to follow each other… it pretends that these statistical tricks are equivalent to well-sourced and verified knowledge."
As writers, we pride ourselves on our accuracy, on the truth of our sources. We spend our time thinking of original connections, ways to be persuasive in sharing a message, or inciting action. We live and breathe emotion. It is compelling, it is art. It is human.
And yet we (and I know I speak for more than myself), are still tempted by the promise of ChatGPT. Articles abound exploring the benefits for marketing, business, education. “AI to the rescue of tongue-tied lotharios” suggests The Times. Jeremy Hunt even used ChatGPT to write the introduction to his pro-innovation speech last week, to varied reception.
So what does ChatGPT really mean to writers? Perhaps it boils down to our eternal fascination with what it means to write. The question has existed for centuries before AI, and this disruption prompts a different angle.
Katherine Wingate is an account director at Camargue