Wondering what impact artificial intelligence tools, like ChatGPT, will have on Aussie writers? Bastion Amplify’s content director for integrated communications agency, Missy Burrell, examines AI’s effectiveness for productivity and creativity.
There’s one topic flooding LinkedIn feeds in 2023: ChatGPT. OpenAI’s large language model, trained on text from the internet, is capable of generating human-like text—think translating languages, summarising text, and answering questions. Type a question into the bot’s interface and it will come back with a response. Want to tweak it? Ask a follow-up question.
We’ve all been using AI to write for years. Gmail’s Smart Compose feature learns your tone of voice and offers swipe-along suggestions for your email replies. Grammarly takes your writing and ‘upgrades’ it, picking up on passive voice errors or when you’re getting too wordy. Heck, we’ve been using predictive text to SMS for decades.
But what has tongues keyboards wagging about ChatGPT is its ability to not just refine or improve writing, but to create it. Since its research release late last year, the user-friendly interface of ChatGPT has made the technology more accessible, giving more people insight into the power of wielding AI for writing. Send ChatGPT a brief (write me a witty birthday invitation to a pool party) and it delivers instantly (Splash into summer with a bang! Join us for a pool party to celebrate [Name]’s birthday. Don’t forget your swimsuits, sunscreen, and a thirst for fun). Job done. It’s not perfect (with a bang?) but it’s passable.
What does ChatGPT mean for creatives?
The writers who’ve been taking your briefs for ad copy, TVC scripts, and taglines since forever, turning them into measurable results and memorable moments—without any real tech upgrade since the word processor.
There is a good joke about artificial intelligence being too smart to want your job. As Nick Cave wrote in his recent Red Hand Files newsletter, being creative is “a blood and guts business, here at my desk, that requires something of me to initiate the new and fresh idea. It requires my humanness.” And therein lies AI’s biggest weakness—its lack of a beating, human heart.
AI’s flaws when it comes to writing tasks are well-documented. ChatGPT’s own website lists the limitations of the tool—its outputs can be incorrect or nonsensical; it can be verbose and repetitive; and, most dangerously, it can exhibit bias and produce inappropriate content. It is, after all, fed on data from the internet. Independent research into GPT-3 also points out the technology lacks common-sense reasoning; delivers plagiarised outputs; and relies heavily on the expertise and prompting of the user (i.e. the human at the helm).
I conducted research into using GPT-3 prompts to develop short story fiction and experienced its flaws first-hand—circular paragraphs that led nowhere; blatant bias, where the AI automatically assigned main characters as male and gave female characters interests in chores and cooking (unprompted); a lack of common-sense reasoning, including character descriptions like ‘her hair is a burnt apricot’; and a disturbing tendency to sexualise the narrative.
And while, as a writer, it was good to see firsthand the limitations of the technology, these are flags that can be refined. As technology progresses, so too will its abilities. Its training dataset can be shifted from the entire web to more targeted data, removing unsafe references. Images can be added to the data set to give the machine more real-world context. And, as critiquing functions are optimised, AI tools will be able to better self-edit and improve its outputs.
What AI is missing is the immeasurable quality of humanness. How do we, as a species, clearly express the values and the formula of what makes us human? And, even if we could set these emotional factors or considerations for the AI, the goalposts would be constantly changing as time, culture, and taste move and change. For example, McDonald’s UK’s lauded #RaiseYourArches campaign. It doesn’t feature food or a restaurant. Or any words. What it does draw from is strategic and deeply creative thinking that taps into the human experience, making the content relatable, enjoyable, and effective. This is not a concept or execution easily mimicked by AI.
In my own short story experiment, the AI wasn’t able to wield many of the tools in an author’s arsenal, like foreshadowing, subtext, or nuance. It lacked planning or having a ‘bigger picture’, its plotlines were circular or rambling, and its exposition and dialogue were childlike.
But it is useful. It can rewrite entire passages, like experimenting with narrative point of view. AI outputs can spark writer creativity and alleviate writer’s block. And, funnily enough, AI’s absence of lived experience can result in surprising and unpredictable storyline ideas, which can help to subvert reader expectations.
AI is a wonderful advancement in the digital technology available to creative writers. It can help boost productivity and elevate our creative thinking, pushing us to move beyond what’s been done before and innovate. It can write.
What it can’t do, is tell our stories.