Chat GPT

March 28, 2023

Nothing puts a pit in my stomach like someone asking me to sign a card for a coworker. I hated writing in yearbooks. These days I am finding retirement cards are no better. A friend of mine has six sons, and when the oldest was in the army, a younger brother signed a birthday card to him, “Anything I put here would be awkward.” (Picture me doing Katniss Everdeen’s three finger salute here) Solidarity, my wise friend, solidarity.

Facing yet another retirement card last week, I consulted the internet for something to say. Elbert Hubbard’s “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive,” seemed inappropriate, as did Dr. Seuss’s advice, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” What to write?

Chat GPT is making the news. It seems that somebody decided computers can write better than, or at least as well as, people can. They developed “Chat GPT” to prove it. Chat GPT- and soon to be many other similar programs use AI or Artificial Intelligence to mimic human behavior and choices. In this case, it is being used to write, but AI is also being used to create visual art.

I logged in and asked “What should I write in a retirement card?” The program spit out 10 generic responses. Here are three: “1. Congratulations on your retirement! Enjoy this new chapter of your life. 2. Wishing you all the best in your retirement. May it be filled with joy, relaxation, and new adventures. 3. Your dedication and hard work have inspired us all. Enjoy your retirement, and know that your legacy will live on.” 

It seems you can ask Chat GPT to write anything for you, including term papers. In fact this has already happened. A professor thought the writing seemed off in one of his student’s essays, so he investigated and discovered Chat GPT had written the paper. The student admitted to plagiarism and was subsequently expelled from the university. As the technology improves, and you can be sure it will, plagiarism will be more difficult to detect.

Accuracy is another problem Chat GPT users are encountering. The program is learning from the internet, which isn’t always accurate. If the program finds conflicting information, it can’t determine which pieces are correct, so it guesses.

While I was logged in, I asked Chat GPT to compose a vision statement for the library. It came up with this:

“The Gering Library is a vibrant hub of community engagement, where people of all backgrounds and ages come together to learn, create, and connect. We strive to provide innovative and responsive services that meet the changing needs of our patrons. Our goal is to foster a culture of lifelong learning and civic participation, and to promote equity and inclusion through the power of knowledge and information. Through our efforts, we hope to inspire a sense of curiosity and wonder in all who enter our doors, and to be a catalyst for positive social change in our community and beyond.”

I liked it a lot. So did everyone else on staff. It doesn’t feel bland like the retirement suggestions, and it covers what I think is our vision for the Gering Library.

I will play with Chat GPT more, but I don’t see an algorithm replacing interesting writing. Could it write a library column for me? I promise, if I experiment, I will let you know.  I write because I enjoy putting my thoughts together. An algorithm will never replace a personal touch, either in writing or in visual artworks.

In the end I avoided both the bland and the inappropriate notes. I reminded my friend to come visit us, now that he has free time. My response made me sad, because he wrote the most thoughtful and funny note in the card he sent for my wedding. I let him down. I should have done better, but I drew a blank. I can write on paper, but faced with a greeting card I am useless.

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