Thursday, February 09, 2023

Creative AI?

There's been a lot of news in the media lately about AI programs that generate text or images. One of the e-mail lists I subscribe to recently had a long thread about AI text products and especially art. Some people argued about whether a program that gets "ideas" (to speak anthropomorphically) from many different online images and combines multiple elements from them to produce a new image unlike any of the sources is infringing artists' copyrights. I tend to agree with the position that such a product is in no sense a "copy" of any particular original.

Here's the Wikipedia article on ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer):


The core function of that program is "to mimic a human conversationalist." However, it does many other language-related tasks, such as "to write and debug computer programs" and "to compose music, teleplays, fairy tales, and student essays" and even "answer test questions," as well as other functions such as playing games and emulating "an entire chat room." It could also streamline rote tasks such as filling out forms. It has limitations, though, which are acknowledged by its designers. Like any AI, it's constrained by its input, and it may sometimes generate nonsense. When asked for an opinion or judgment, the program replies that, being an AI, it doesn't have feelings or opinions.

This week the Baltimore SUN ran an editorial about the potential uses and abuses of the program. It includes a conversation with ChatGPT, asking about various issues of interest to Maryland residents. For instance, the AI offers a list of "creative" uses for Old Bay seasoning. It produces grammatically correct, coherent prose but tends to answer in generalizations that would be hard to disagree with. One drawback is that it doesn't provide attribution or credit for its sources. As the editorial cautions, "That makes fact-checking difficult, and puts ChatGPT (and its users) at risk of both plagiarizing the work of others and spreading misinformation."

A Chat with ChatGPT

Joshua Wilson, an associate professor of education at the University of Delaware, discusses the advantages and limitations of ChatGPT:

Writing Without Thinking?

It can churn out an essay on a designated topic, drawing on material it garners from the internet. A writer could treat this output as a a pre-first-draft that the human creator could then revise and elaborate. It's an "optimal synthesizer" but lacks "nuance and perspective." To forbid resorting to ChatGPT would be futile, he thinks; instead, we need to figure out the proper ways to use it. He sees it as a valid device to save time and effort, provided we regard its product as a "starting point and not a final destination."

David Brooks, a NEW YORK TIMES columnist, offers cautionary observations on art and prose generated by AI programs:

Major in Being Human

He distinguishes between tasks a computer program can competently perform and those that require "a humanistic core," such as "passion, pain, longings. . . imagination, bursts of insight, anxiety and joy." He advises the next generation to educate themselves for "skills that machines will not replicate," e.g., creativity, empathy, a "distinct personal voice," etc.

Some school systems have already banned ChatGPT in the classroom as a form of cheating. Moreover, AI programs exist with the function of detecting probable AI-generated prose. From what I've read about text-generating and art-producing programs, it seems to me that in principle they're tools like spellcheck and electronic calculators, even though much more complex. Surely they can be used for either fruitful or flawed purposes, depending on human input.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. Yesterday (Wednesday Feb. 8), coincidentally, the Baltimore SUN reprinted another opinion piece about ChatGPT, on how to get the most useful answers from it:
    What Kinds of Questions Get Good Answers?

  2. And here's a new Extra Credits podcast on the legalities of using AI art in game designs:
    Extra Credits

  3. Here's a post inviting comments from SFWA members on this issue. For readers of this blog who may be SFWA members, this might be of interest to you:
    SFWA Comment Form