Once upon a time, in a city four or five hours from Bethlehem, an idea was born. The idea was, “Can Rodney write a story using Artificial Intelligence?”
The very next question was, “Should Rodney write a story using Artificial Intelligence?”
This is a holiday tale about that idea. The town was Pittsburgh (get it, across the state from Bethlehem?). And I was sitting at my son-in-law’s dining room table as he showed me the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) software writing.
It’s been a few years since I’d heard about news sites using AI to write stories for them. Forbes did a piece more than three years ago about stories written solely by robots (bots). Financial stories, sports, politics, crime reporting … they’ve all been written by earlier versions of artificial intelligence.
Lately, in the past month or two, there’ve been new sites coming online that up the sophistication ante and my son-in-law, the game developer, was showing me their power. So I decided to try them out, in a very clumsy, ham-fisted way for this holiday blog.
Using three different sites, I typed in variations of the prompt, “What is the Spiritual Wanderer’s holiday wish?”
Yes, at first I got some gibberish. One site added a word to my request and answered the prompt “What is the Spiritual Wanderer’s holiday wish list?” It answered itself by saying, “We would like to share with you a list of our thoughts and wishes, for a happy and peaceful holiday season and New Year in your hometowns and hometowns of other spiritual wanderers.”
Okay, that’s nice. Thank you robot. But that’s not what I was asking.
One response was rather terrifying, and not just because it was grammatically incorrect. “It is a sad fact of life that every man, even the religious ones, has a mental list of people whom he would like to have a mental breakdown.” It got weirder and yes, worse. “I’m not a religious nut, but a former one. That means I do know where the funny nuts are. And believe me, if I was living with a batch of nuts, some of them would be really, really weird. And probably nuts!”
I moved on to another server. Quickly, I might add.
With the same question, “What is the Spiritual Wanderer’s holiday wish?” it replied, “The journey of the spiritual wanderer is a life that is rich with experience, with learning and also with some laughter. You have a wonderful opportunity to enjoy all this in this time of the year.”
Oh how delightful. You get me, robot.
I tried another server, one getting all the press as of late. And typed in a simpler, broader prompt. “The Spiritual Wanderer’s holiday wish.”
It started out by subtly scolding me, but then replied with a pretty cogent answer:
“As a language model, I don’t have personal beliefs or feelings, but I can offer some general thoughts on the concept of a spiritual holiday wish.”
It continued: “A spiritual holiday wish might be a desire or prayer for inner peace, spiritual growth, or connection to something larger than oneself. It could be a wish for the well-being of others, or for the world as a whole. It could also be a wish for clarity or guidance on one’s spiritual path.”
“Ultimately,” it said, “the specifics of a spiritual holiday wish will depend on the individual and their personal beliefs and values. Some people may wish for a deepening of their connection to their faith or spiritual practice, while others may wish for the strength and courage to continue on their spiritual journey.”
The AI ended with, “No matter what form it takes, a spiritual holiday wish can be a meaningful way to focus one’s thoughts and intentions during the holiday season. It can also be a way to connect with others who share similar spiritual values and beliefs.”
So . . . whoa!
I’ve had several different conversations with people over the ensuing weeks since sitting at my son-in-law’s table. Some of my educator friends and family hadn’t heard about it. Others said AI story writing is something that’s going to change class work mightily. A story in The Atlantic even proclaimed AI was The End of High School English.
But one of the funniest responses I heard was from a good friend who teaches English at the University level. She related the story about a middling-to-weak student who suddenly, one day, turned in an incredible paper. She was suspicious about it, particularly when the student quoted thoughts and themes from a book that was not part of the assignment. When she invited the student into her office and asked how he was so diligent by reading another whole book, well, he copped to the fact that a bot wrote the paper for him.
There’s a lot we’re going to have to come to grips with as technology races ahead of us. I’m convinced we’ll never really be ready for it. But as we inch or leap toward The Singularity — that moment when AI becomes smarter than us — let’s try to remember all the things that make us human and not machine. What are those things? Let me ask the computer.
But hey, I’ll let the AI finish this blog.
“The Spiritual Wanderer’s holiday wish:
May you find peace and inner contentment on your spiritual journey.
May you be blessed with the strength and courage to continue exploring your beliefs and values.
May you find meaningful connections and support from others who share your spiritual path.
May you discover new insights and understanding on your journey towards enlightenment.
May you be surrounded by love, joy, and abundance during this holiday season and throughout the coming year.
I hope these ideas are helpful and that you have a wonderful holiday season!”
Sure, it may just be a series of silly servers, but its sentiments seem sentient.