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One Writer's World

Listening to an AI voice

This morning life became a bit surreal for me. You may have heard about ChatGPT; this is AI writing books and essays well enough to fool people and let students get A grades without any effort. Education on writing and thinking will be replaced, along with writers who create novels and research articles. At least that's the fear.
You and I may fear our writing skills and imaginations are no longer enough to compete in the literary marketplace but this morning I learned that it gets worse: we may be displaced in another realm—interviews on a podcast. On the CyberWire website, Brandon Karpf interviews AI, after it has been given a voice (with a British accent), and then discusses the interview with Rick Howard. The IT voice sounds reasonable and polite all the way through, even able to explore the problems with AI, which the two humans discuss at greater length at the end of the interview with AI.
I'll admit that I was slow to adopt computer technology because I found the earlier computers frustrating to use. Typing on a typewriter with paper was easier. Also in the beginning I read short and long pieces that had been sent out into the world before they were ready, in my view. Getting something finished so easily on a computer tended to lead the author to believe that the essay or book was actually finished. The pages of an essay never looked finished on a typewriter until the work had been fully rewritten and polished, but that stage could easily be ignored on a computer. Writers have dealt with this temptation and now know to question the assumption that something is finished because the page looks so perfect. But AI now offers greater temptations.
Some of this is funny. The AI voice could offer "advice" to the writers on how to correct the weaknesses in an essay. How easy would it be to slip in all sorts of material to undermine—what?—facts, confidence, conclusions? I don't know, but here is the interview for those of you ready to hear a software (?) talk.
You can listen to the podcast here.

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What I'm reading . . .

It should be no surprise that I read a lot of mysteries, but I like to read in other genres as well. Recently I picked up Mohsin Hamid's new book The Last White Man. If nothing else, this is an intriguing title, so I checked it out of the library and settled in during an evening last weekend to read it. The story opens with a young white man waking up one morning to discover that he has brown skin. He's confused, uncertain what has happened or how it happened. He calls in sick to his job, at a gym, and waits for his skin to fade to white. But it doesn't fade. Nothing changes, so the next day he tells his boss things are worse and he won't be in all week. The boss is not happy. I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, and I urge you to do so. It's a short tale (fewer than 200 pages), and held my interest. But there is one aspect that struck me throughout.


Hamid is a master of the run-on sentence. At first I thought he was prone to long, convoluted passages, but as I read closely, I saw that wasn't the case. My ever-present grammarian hovered over my shoulder pointing out all the comma splices and independent clauses hooked on with little more than "and," sometimes running on to half a page or more. My interest in the story shushed the grammarian, but by the end of the book I was wholely in Hamid's camp. His never-ending, barely punctuated, and rarely properly linked sentences kept up an easy flow of movement and thought through what was a fraught situation for the main character. I imagined a paragraph recast with proper punctuation, and it would have ruined the reading experience. The style mattered for the story, a tale of one man, and then others, in a situation well beyond their comprehension and certainly their control. Life flowed on, and the characters could only ride the circumstances.


I would love to hear how others feel about this writing style, as well as the many other layers of the story. The author explores racism and its moments from an unexpected perspective, opening the reader's eyes to thirty seconds that can change a day or a relationship, before life moves on. How does anyone cope with the loss of what has defined someone's identity? If you're familiar with the book, I hope you'll comment here.

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