In a much anticipated chess match in February, 1996, the world champion Garry Kasparov faced IBM’s Deep Blue, the most advanced chess-playing machine. Kasparov lost the first game but went on to win the match in Philadelphia, 4-2. It was humanity’s proudest moment in competition pitting man vs. machine.
Fifteen months later in Manhattan, the two faced off again. In the intervening time engineers fixed a bug in Deep Blue’s programming, while doubling its processing speed. Kasparov lost, stunning the chess community while boosting the hopes and spirits of the tech world.
Today, the notion of a human beating the best computer at chess is as far-fetched as a sprinter outracing a Bugatti.
I thought about that as I tested the AI writing software ChatGPT for the first time. No matter how much I’d heard and read about its capability, I was not prepared for the impact using the software had on my sense of the creative process — personally and professionally — and what the future might hold.
Developed by Open AI in San Francisco, ChatGPT (“Generative Pre-trained Transformer”) responds to plain-English queries and produces — with remarkable speed — text in the form of a simple statement or more complex documents such as letters, articles and even an entire book.
What surprised me most was how cogent the material was when compared with all the forms of AI we’ve come to rely upon in everyday life, from Alexa and Siri to GPS and Google. I was also amazed at how advanced the output had become since 2018 when the Associated Press began distributing computer-written stories about minor league baseball games.
The ChatGPT software, still in beta testing, is available for free, though after just a few hours of dabbling I signed up for the more advanced version for $20 per month. While some of the output reads like a Wikipedia entry, or worse, much of it is surprisingly sharp.
I asked for an outline of a nonfiction book I’ve recently started writing and the treatment contained ideas and perspective I hadn’t considered. I requested advertising copy for my current book, “Playing POTUS,” and a few of the lines were so compelling that I’m using them in promotion. I requested a birthday letter to my son and the message was eerily appropriate, certainly better than what Hallmark sells.
ChatGPT is lacking in whimsy, as several of my Hollywood colleagues discovered when they experimented with it to write sitcom scripts. On the other hand, it's quite proficient as an author of children’s books and certain how-to guides — dozens of which are already showing up for sale.
Where this fits in the creative community’s future isn’t clear, but at minimum these so-called chatbots are useful for numerous mundane functions and in early research. Beyond that, many of us would like to believe that it is heart and soul that will always be unique to human creativity.
And that leaves readers and my editor asking two questions: Who or what created the previous sentence? And, does anyone really care?
Copyright 2023 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Peter Funt’s latest book is “Playing POTUS: The Power of America’s Acting Presidents,” about comedians who impersonated presidents.