I was feeling cheeky and a little curious, so I asked ChatGPT to write me an essay on why using human writers was superior to AI. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this exercise is that the writing is simultaneously good and awful. It’s good in that it’s grammatical, clear, and competent. It’s awful in the sense that it’s flat, dull, and lacks, for lack of a better expression, “soul.”
So, let’s take a look at the essay that ChatGPT wrote for me—“The Superiority of Human Writers over AI,” to see just how right it is in its conclusions.
In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has made significant strides in various fields, including writing. However, despite the advancements, the irreplaceable value of human writers persists. While AI may possess impressive capabilities, there are unique qualities inherent in human writers that make their work superior. This essay will explore the reasons why utilizing human writers continues to hold an edge over AI-generated content.—ChatGPT
As you can see, this paragraph is competently written, grammatically correct, and coherent. At the same time, it has a wooden feel to it, as though it were written by a high school student following a script for how an essay should be written. If I were to have started this essay, I’d have done it something like this:
HAL 9000 was capable of taking over the Jupiter mission in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but could he have written this post? Would the machines that ran the world in The Matrix have been capable of writing a single episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? If the capabilities of our current AI are any indication, the answer is no.—Human Being
Creativity and Originality
One of the greatest strengths of human writers lies in their ability to think creatively and produce original content. Human writers possess the innate capacity to imagine, innovate, and draw inspiration from their personal experiences and emotions. They can bring a fresh perspective, infusing their work with unique ideas, diverse cultural influences, and profound insights. The intricate nuances, emotions, and depths of human experiences cannot be fully replicated by AI, ultimately giving human writers the advantage when it comes to creativity and originality.—ChatGPT
I don’t think that ChatGPT is meta-aware; that is, I don’t think it intentionally wrote an uncreative and unoriginal paragraph in an essay talking about the superior creativity and originality of human writers—but that’s exactly what it did. If you notice, the first three sentences essentially say the same thing in somewhat different ways: human writers can draw on their experiences. This almost feels like padding, again, as if the AI were a high school student trying to reach a word count requirement. I’d have started this paragraph like this:
The AI has never had the experience of a childhood sweetheart, a first kiss, a first love; when it writing about love, it can only do so by culling together and analyzing written texts about love—it doesn’t know love. It can’t make you feel what it’s felt because it’s never felt at all; it has no experiences to draw from, no shared journey with its readers to invoke.—Human Being
The Essence of Empathy
Empathy is a defining characteristic of human nature, and it plays a pivotal role in writing. Human writers have the capability to empathize with their readers, understanding their needs, desires, and emotions. This empathetic connection allows writers to address complex issues, share experiences, and present diverse perspectives in a way that resonates with readers’ hearts and minds. By tapping into their own emotions and reflecting on the human condition, human writers can create narratives that touch the deepest corners of the human soul. AI, on the other hand, lacks the ability to experience emotions or understand the nuances of human experiences, thus falling short in conveying genuine empathy through its writing.—ChatGPT
Here again, the AI proves its point in word and deed. It does not even think to attempt to illustrate an emotional connection by making one with its reader. The AI talks about empathy without emotion or feeling. This is an essay about humanity, and yet there is not an ounce of humanity in it. I’d try something like this:
When Huckleberry Finn fully grasps the runaway slave Jim’s humanity, it is the turning point of the novel. It is an experience powerfully conveyed to the reader because we have been inside Huck’s mind the entire journey; his empathy becomes our empathy. In the same way, we follow Scout in the evolution of her feelings about Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird because, in her growth in empathy and understanding, we recognize our own. Only a writer who has experienced empathy, who has been able to put themselves in the shoes of another, can guide a reader to experiencing that same feeling.—A Human Being
Critical Thinking and Adaptability
Another aspect in which human writers excel is their capacity for critical thinking and adaptability. Writing requires the skill to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information effectively. Human writers possess the ability to think critically, allowing them to explore complex ideas, challenge existing norms, and offer fresh insights. Moreover, they can adapt their writing style and tone to suit different audiences, adjusting their language, structure, and approach as necessary. In contrast, AI lacks the intuition and adaptability of a human mind. While AI can generate coherent texts based on patterns and algorithms, it struggles to provide meaningful analysis, innovative perspectives, and adapt to dynamic writing requirements.—ChatGPT
Intuition and adaptability are indeed lacking in AI. In a separate conversation with ChatGPT, I asked it to tell me a joke. It told me a corny pun (“Why don’t scientists trust atoms? They make up everything.”). When I asked it to tell me a joke that didn’t involve puns, it was incapable of doing it. When I gave it a joke and asked it to tell me one like that, it basically told me back the same joke but changed “bar” for “coffee shop,” “martini” for “drink,” and “wife” for “ex-girlfriend,” and added a punchline that was a pun and made no sense in context. In a very real way, the AI couldn’t adapt the joke; it could only use it as a template for what was funny, without any intuition as to what made it funny.
The Human Touch
Writing is an inherently personal endeavor that reflects the uniqueness of the human spirit. Human writers infuse their work with their individuality, experiences, and perspectives, creating a connection that is deeply personal and authentic. Readers often seek out human writers for their distinct voices, varied writing styles, and idiosyncrasies. Human-written content possesses an intangible quality that is rooted in human nature, enabling readers to forge a genuine bond with the writer. AI-generated content may be proficient in mimicking human language, but it ultimately lacks the profound human touch that resonates with readers on a deeper level.–ChatGPT
The last sentence is the most telling: “AI-generated content may be proficient in mimicking human language, but it ultimately lacks the profound human touch that resonates with readers on a deeper level.” Communication is about more than stringing together grammatically correct phrases and comprehensible words; it is about creating a world of shared experience that both the writer and reader can draw from in transmitting meaning. An AI can never have the experiences a human being does, and as such, it will never be able to communicate with power.
While AI has made significant strides in the realm of writing, human beings remain unrivaled as writers due to their inherent qualities and capacities. The imaginative power, empathy, critical thinking, and adaptability that humans possess enable them to craft narratives that are compelling, emotional, and deeply impactful. Human writers offer a unique perspective on the world, sharing experiences and ideas that resonate with readers on a profound level. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology, it is crucial to appreciate the irreplaceable role of human beings as writers, preserving the artistry and depth of human expression.—ChatGPT
Once again, the conclusion feels like the conclusion to a decent high school or college freshman paper: it’s sound, grammatical, and formulaic, nicely summarizing everything it has said before. But once again, it has no “soul.”
Do AI writing programs have a place? Undoubtedly they do; technical writing or other basic information summarization might be a good fit. But human communication is about so much more than good grammar or competent structure; it involves nuance, flexibility, and a lot of context—the kind of context that is often perceived intuitively.
Until AIs can have actual experiences, possess feelings, and share a common cultural background, good, effective, and powerful writing is likely to remain in the realm of the humanities.